REVIEW: Football, etc. – "The Draft"

In my very short review of the Football, etc. EP, First Down, I was very clearly stoked on it. It was four songs of great emo music. They were coming across as one of the best contemporary bands in the genre. I still stand by that opinion, but maybe the honeymoon period is over.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this new full length is still good. The same points of praise still stand. The problem is, in full length form, it just does not feel the same. Having listened to this record many times, there is something about it that does not sit right with me. While the band is certainly adept at making great sounding 2nd wave style emo, they do not quite branch out beyond the formula of the genre. The average length of all 10 songs is about 3 minutes (shortest being 1:22, longest being 4:26. The rest all fall somewhere in the 3-3.5 minute mark). All are mid-tempo. More or less, you have 10 songs that are all pretty similar sounding. While it makes for a cohesive half hour (give or take) of music, it can also get kind of boring. Couple this with the fact that Lindsay Minton (guitar/vocals) tends to draw every word out (on damn near every song), and you have a recipe for a slightly sub-par release. My last minor gripe is the artwork. It looks ok, but kind of like someone resized the picture to LP sized on an old version of MS Paint.  And, it is more than a little Cure-y

But, this is by no means a bad release. The songs are generally good. Lyrically, the band remains spot on (with the exception of Lambeau). The honesty and conviction are there, but it is tempered by the somewhat repetitious music. Of special mention, the songs “X’s And O’s” and “Hail Mary” are fantastic. “Flood” might be my favourite track on the whole record. This record is a great example of how strong lyrics can make up for less strong instrumentation.

I know this review seems kind of negative, but I don’t mean it too. This band is still very strong in regards to the music they play. It is easy to draw lazy comparisons to Rainer Maria or to the vocal stylings of Kim Deal. But, my previous statements on this band still stand. If the whole post-emo indie rock thing is your bag (as it is mine), there is no reason why you should not own this record. There are some flaws, but it is still a great record overall.

Official Site
Bandcamp Page (stream some stuff)
Count Your Lucky Stars (U.S. Release)
strictly no capital letters (Europe release)

You wouldn’t take what you couldn’t have.

I was listening to Jawbreaker today. The song Friendly Fire came on. This was really the whole reason I wrote this little thing. The line “you demonize so you don’t look so bad. You wouldn’t take what you couldn’t have” made me think about all this. The punk scene, for better or worse, still seems to get stuck in the debate of major labels vs indie labels. This debate seems to keep resurfacing every time a pretty big band signs to a major. We saw it when Rise Against and Anti-Flag jumped shit from Fat Wreck to Dreamworks and RCA respectively. They both did it under the guise of “spreading their message to a wider audience,” which always feels like a cop out to me. There was an even bigger fuss when Against Me! jumped from Fat Wreck to Sire. Accusations of “selling out” were thrown, and we all got much stupider in the process.

At a time when the entire music industry is losing money hand over fist, this debate seems more ridiculous than ever. Since Napster was founded in 1999, it changed the way most of us got music. Why spend upwards of $16 on a CD, when all you wanted was the single? With the advent of Bittorrent, it has become even easier to illegally download media. If you intend to just rip the shit off anyway, does it matter what label you are stealing from? And, let’s be clear, downloading is stealing. I do not care how you justify it, or how I have justified it. You are taking a product designed for purchase without paying for it. People try to make the argument that, as long as it is major label releases, it is not really stealing. The problem is, people are taking just as much from indie labels. But, this is a whole separate discussion entirely.

Basically, the major vs. indie debate, in my mind, is just another offshoot of the 80’s hardcore movement. More or less, you had a bunch of bands that no major showed interest in, so they built the indie labels/distro themselves. The whole DIY culture. With the exception of Dischord Records, everyone seemed to be reactionary to the majors because they were not accepted vs. having any real underground ethics. Shit, even Black Flag and SST had a distro deal with MCA (via Unicorn) for about 10 minutes. It is easy to refuse something no one offered you anyway. This became evident when Hüsker Dü went major. The Replacements went major. Post-Black Flag Henry Rollins even had a few releases on Dreamworks. Again, uproar and bullshit. Basically, the foundation of “punk rock ethics” was built by the hardcore scene. Then, Maximum Rock N Roll built the dogmatic shit around that. So now, almost 30 years later, that dogmatic bullshit is law.

This is not to say there is not a difference between the two kinds of labels anymore. On a practical level, a major label album (or even an album on a large indie like Epitaph or Fat Wreck [which are distributed via majors]) are going to be more readily available in a commercial sense than an album put out on Too Indie For A Lyric Sheet Records based out of bullshit middle America. On an ethical level, indies are better when it comes to how artists are treated/paid/supported (Lookout! being the notable exception). But, given the advances in technology (most of all, the internet), does the label still matter?

The way I see it, not really. The fact that people are still willing to put out records at all is enough for me. Plus, with the majors losing so much money, they might not be around for much longer anyway. Now, I am not endorsing major labels, as I generally do not like them. But, a band signing over to one is not going to make me stop listening. Similarly, just because a record came out on a major is not going to stop me from buying it. If a band wants to make that jump, let them. Just stop with the bullshit back and forth. No one cares anymore.

Well, the “punx” do. But, fuck them anyway.

Emo Is Not Dead

Music, like everything else, is cyclical. A genre will come out, get over saturated, bastardized, and generally turned into a joke. The real aspect of that scene will go underground, and the scene will thrive again. This happened with ska (rather, ska-punk). That scene blew the fuck up due to pop acts like No Doubt, Reel Big Fish, Goldfinger, and the like. Due to the commercial expansion, and later collapse, lots of things of the scene were lost. Moon Ska Records closed it’s doors. Ska became a punchline. Music for band geeks to cover cheesy 80’s songs. It became a joke. However, with bands like Streetlight Manifesto, The Chinkees, The Slackers, and The Toasters (holy fuck, those dudes have been around forever), the scene managed to stay active. If not more underground.

The same is true for emo music. Like many people my age, I was first exposed to the genre via the early/mid 2000’s explosion of popularity. Shit, Jimmy Eat World managed to get a hit record. I was exposed through bands like The Get Up Kids, Thursday, Taking Back Sunday, and At The Drive-In. Those bands put out some great records. In some cases, I do not consider them “emo,” but they were certainly influenced by it.

Meanwhile, there was another big thing happening in the scene. It was the Drive-Thru Records era. That label was putting out record after record of radio ready “pop-punk” that was constantly getting classified as emo. Bands like New Found Glory, The Starting Line, The Movielife, and Something Corporate (ugh), were all getting tagged as being emo bands. Those bands were to emo what Reel Big Fish and Save Ferris were to ska. Ok for what they were, but totally muddying the scene. From the Drive-Thru bands, you had the further bastardization of what was emo. Most notably with bands like My Chemical Romance and Fallout Boy. The genre tag was getting applied to things that had nothing to do with the genre, and in some cases nothing to do with the greater punk scene in general.

Well, as is wont to happen, the scene became a joke. It became more of a term to describe bands catering to kids with shitty haircuts, a penchant for self-harm, and day-glo shirts. Bands like Braid, Mineral, I Hate Myself, Heroin, and the extended family of bands stemming from Cap’n Jazz fell by the wayside. Now it was shit like “I wish my grass was emo, so it would cut itself” or “how many emo kids does it take to change a light bulb? None, they would rather cry in the dark.” What the fuck happened?

Well, the real scene went underground. The mainstream thought it understood what emo was, while being totally unaware. Through labels like Count Your Lucky Stars Records, Square Of Opposition Records, and Tiny Engines Records, we are finally seeing good records coming out to wide release. There is a bunch of talk about there being a “Midwest emo revival.” I disagree with the phrase because, for some of us, the scene never died. There were always bands we could stand behind. But, of the newer crop, there is Snowing, Castevet (now CSTVT), Grown Ups, Perfect Future, and Football, Etc. They are plenty more, but those are my personal favourites.

It seems unlikely that the mainstream definition will ever change to being realistic of what the scene historically was (and currently is), but I do not think anyone expects it to. But, at least we can take back what is ours.

See also: Article  @ Chicago’s Newcity Music:
The New Emo: It’s back, living underground and thriving in Chicago

*the picture for this entry is of CSTVT. I do not know the source, but I got it from the band page for them on Punknews.org. Sorry.

REVIEW: Lemuria – "Pebble"

Lemuria is one of those bands that has evolved with each release. Their first release in 2004, technically a self released demo, was more or less a pop punk record. It steered clear of the genre bullshit. It was not just reheated Ramones riffs. But, the energy was more that of pop punk. As time progressed, they started to play with their sound. Allowing songs to get a little longer, a little more complex, and a little more thought out. Especially lyrically. I mean, the lyrics and delivery on the song “Let’s Think About What Just Happened” (from the 2004 demo) are a little awkward.

Between then and now, the band put out some 7 inches and splits (notably they did a split with Kind Of Like Spitting. The split with them features the KOLS song that I named the blog after). They collected all their 7″ material and compilation tracks on a release called The First Collection in 2007. While being a compilation release, it has held up really well, and does not sound disjointed, save for maybe a track or two. For people like me, this was the first introduction to the band.

In 2008, they released Get Better. It was the debut full length, and was a a hell of a debut at that. This release kind of solidified what this band was capable of. Fast pop punk songs, mid tempo indie song, and great lyrics start to finish. In my opinion, there was no filler on that album. So, yeah, they set the bar pretty high for themselves.

So, in 2011, we now have Pebble. It is out on, oddly enough, hardcore stalwart label Bridge Nine. Which is kind of a weird pairing, given the style Lemuria plays vs. what B9 is known for. J Robbins did the productions, and I am a fan of his work. He has produced so many of my favourite bands, including Jawbreaker, Braid, and The Promise Ring. He did a great job. The tones are great. It sounds clean without sound over polished. So, that is great.

But, the record has some rough patches. It falls into, what I call, “I’m Henery The VIII, I Am syndrome.” Less Than Jake is guilty of this a lot as well. Basically the second verse is the same as the first. Not to shit on this type of thing, as it is pretty common, but it can get old pretty quickly. You have to make sure that the verse you are repeating is a hell of a verse. Not every song is guilty of this. The most notable offender is the song Pleaser. Which is about 90% made up of the lyric “I am hinting hard, I am a hard hinter. I am a pleaser, and I am hinting hard.” This song goes on for damn near four minutes. It is a great song, but I think it provides a good example.

The album opener, Gravity, is not what one would expect from a pop-punk/indie band. Very slow, very calm, sounding not unlike a song The xx would put out (sans the overused synth lines that The xx are so fond of). More or less, an ok song. But, not really indicative of the album’s tone. There is not really any fast songs, it is mostly a mid tempo affair, but it has all the catchy hooks one would expect.

Lyrically, this album just seems darker. I mean, Get Better had some less than cheerful lyrics (see Hawaiian T-Shirt or Lipstick). Pebble tops that. I mean, one of the most cheerful and poppy songs on is about sexual abuse. Seriously, check out the song Bloomer.

Sheena Ozzella sounds fantastic on the record. Her vocals sound better than ever. The same is true for Alex Kerns. They are very good at doing back and forth vocals. The vocals are mixed well, and stand out clearly over their guitar and drums, respectively. Looks like, on this release, the bass duties were filled by Kyle Paton. He has since left the band due to immigration troubles with Canada. As I mentioned previously, the bass sounds great on here. Check out the song Chautauqua County to see what I mean.

One issue I have about this record is that the songwriting does not have the split that Get Better (or even The First Collection) had. This record was very much the Alex Kerns show. Out of 11 songs, he wrote 10 of them. Lyrically, Sheena was only involved with the lyrics of the last song, The One. Which I think is one of the best songs on the album. I mean, yeah, the ratio usually falls in his favor. If you go to their site and look at the lyrics, he has more writing credit overall. But, I feel like this album was too reliant on him. I like him as a song writer, he has a demo album online of at If You Make It that was really good. I just wish Sheena had more songs on the album. I think this might have helped squelch the above mentioned Henery The VIII, I Am syndrome. Not a deal breaker by any means though. But, I really think I would have rather had a Sheena song instead of Yellowstone Lady. Just saying.

All in all, a good record. I think my expectations were really high for this, given how much I loved Get Better. This being out so early in the year, I am not sure how it will hold up against other releases this year. But, it has set the bar pretty high. If you like indie pop, do not sleep on this record. While you are at it, get their split with the Cheap Girls too.

Buy it from the band directly
Buy it Bridge Nine Records (where you can choose if you want CD, vinyl, digital, whatever).

REVIEW – Football, etc. – "First Down"

Man, I am so clever. Posting a review for a band called Football, etc. on Super Bowl weekend. Also, totally fucking up the review schedule I set. Anyway.

See, There was a time when the word “emo” did not bring to mind pictures of kids with swoop haircuts, lip piercings, and unfortunate day-glo tees. Back in the mid to late 90s, the 2nd wave of emo produced a rather impressive series of records. I mean, we are talking about big bands like Friction, Braid, Cap’n Jazz, American Football, Mineral, Rainer Maria, Camber, Texas Is The Reason, The Promise Ring, Sunny Day Real Estate and the first few releases by The Get Up Kids (to name a few). Yeah, this was what music taxonomy nerds would call “post-emo indie rock,” but my point remains.

Hailing from Houston Texas, Football, etc. put out this EP in July 2009, but they sound like they could have been contemporaries to the above listed bands. While this was just a four song demo, it had the touchstones of that (seemingly forgotten) sound. You have the twinkly guitars, the somewhat subdued vocals, and sincerity that most fucking “emo” records are missing these days. Lindsay Minton has a great vocal performance on here. Perfect voice for this type of music.

I am not going to fuck around with a track by track analysis or anything. It is a four song EP, and it is fantastic. They have a full length coming out in March via Count Your Lucky Stars Records. This EP is available for download at a few places (donation based/free), but I guess the actual physical release is out of print.

More or less, if you are a fan of that 2nd wave emo sound, check this out. It will not disappoint. I am not going to give it a x out of 5 star rating, because I decided I do not want to do that anymore.

Official Download via Bandcamp
Official Download If You Make It
Steam some stuff via Myspace

The Best Shit of 2010

Well, it is the end of the year. This, of course, means it is time to pretend my opinions matter, and compile my best of list for 2010.

Obviously, this list is my favourite stuff of the year. You may disagree with it (I like that I am typing this warning when, honestly, no one actually reads this thing [save that one dude, maybe]). So, yeah.

On with the show, motherfuckers.

TOP 10 FULL LENGTHS (in no particular order):

1) RVIVR – “RVIVR”
2) Blunt Mechanic – “World Record”
3) Off With Their Heads – “In Desolation”
4) Snowing – “I Could Do Whatever I Wanted If I Wanted
5) Grown Ups – “More Songs”
6) Castevet – “The Echo & The Light
7) Best Coast – “Crazy For You”
8) Iron Chic – “Not Like This”
9) The Dum Dum Girls – ” I Will Be”
10) Alkaline Trio – “This Addiction”

TOP 7 INCHES AND EPS (in no particular order):

1) The Get Up Kids – “Simple Science”
2) The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die – “Formlessness”
3) Lemuria – “Chautauqua County”

STUFF THAT WAS ALSO PRETTY AWESOME (but, not “top 10” awesome)
1) Candy Hearts – “Ripped Up Jeans & Silly Dreams”
2) The Gaslight Anthem – “American Slang”
3) Mi Ami – “Steal Your Face”
4) Shinobu – “Exhaustive, Exhaustive”
5) Grass Widow – “Past Time”
6) The Thermals – “Personal Life”
7) Japandroids – “No Singles”
8) Bars Of Gold – “Of Gold”
9) Sundowner – “We Chase The Waves”
10) MGMT – “Congratulations”

One record missing from all lists is “Ghosts On The Boardwalk” by The Bouncing Souls. The reason that it is not included is because, while it came out in January of 2010, it is just all the songs from their monthly 7″ series in 2009. As such, it was on my 2009 list as the series, and would be poor form to include it this year again. Though, yes, it is totally awesome.

—— —— ——

So, that is the list. More reviews coming this week, as we wrap up 2010.

REVIEW: Iron Chic – "Not Like This"

“I want to smash my face into that goddamn radio.”

Without rehashing the entire intro for my review for RVIVR, I really like Latterman. This is another post-Latterman band. So, now that is out of the way. With this band being a mish mash of Latterman and Small Arms Dealer, it had no option but to be great.

This album is pretty fucking fantastic. What you have here is an album full of anthemic punk rock songs. I overlooked this band in the beginning. See, I have a weird thing about album titles, and their 2009 EP title, “Shitty Rambo,” made me not even want to check the band out, even knowing the pedigree. Something about that name bugged the shit out of me. And, man, that was a mistake.

So, in 2010, this debut full length came out, and did not disappoint. The opening song “Cutesy Monster Man” might be one of my favourite “side one, track one” songs of the year. And, the strength of that song carries out through the rest of the release.

To me, though, the lyrics on this record are kind of dark (in a strangely optimistic way). For example, from the song “I Always Never Said That,” we get the following line: “if I hear another word about a better place, I’ll paint these walls with my fucking brains. You said I wouldn’t, but if I did, you don’t think I’ll go to hell for it.” This song is a pretty optimistic in the way it looks at how seriously things get taken, including things that probably are not so serious. And, that even if shit sucks, maybe you should just try and make the best of what you got. I know that sounds kind of simplistic and dumb, but it is a great idea.

Most of the record shares this vibe. In a time where shit sucks, and real communities seem to be non-existent, maybe the best thing is a record about how we all still have a chance. If we finally decide to not let ourselves get run the fuck over. Idealism is still alive in punk rock.

Like with RVIVR, I do not think I can give this a perfect score. I have that bias. But, this record is fucking great from front to back, it shares so much in common with what I loved about Latterman, and I think more records need to be as solid as this one. Let’s call it a 4.5 out of 5 (though, in my mind, it is a straight up 5 out of 5).

Buy It (donation based download)
Buy It (physical copy via Dead Broke Rekerds)
Official site (with full lyrics)