REVIEW: Spraynard – "Funtitled"

Yes. Fuck yes. This is a strong contender for punk record of the year. It is a blast of melodic punk, in the Latterman (lazy comparison) type style. But, this a review. No one cares how stoked I am. So, down to business.

Spraynard is one of those bands that you are either going to like, or you are going to hate. While they are great at what they do, what they do is not super original. Ever since Latterman got huge in the scene, and then broke up, there are no shortage of this type of punk. No one is reinventing the wheel. In the end, some bands just do it better than others.

I was very on the fence about checking this band out from the get go. You have them taking there name from a Tim And Eric sketch, which rarely bodes well. You have the fact that this style of punk is saturating the market. It just seemed like another band on the bandwagon. Finally, I decided to listen to their first full length, and was impressed. They seemed like one of the bands doing this whole thing for the right reasons. Something about it was earnest, and so fucking positive. Their split with Paramedic was also great. The fact that Asian Man Records picked this band up speaks volumes about them. Asian Man is a label that has been more hit than miss (by a wide margin) for as long as I can remember.

This record continues that trend. This is, technically, a split release by Asian Man (physical) and If You Make It (digital). In the same way Bomb The Music Industry does their releases (also with Asian Man). Generally, this record is great. The stand out track for me is “O.R. They?,” which is just one of those song to raise your spirits when you need to posi up a little. Also, “We’re Pretty Nice Guys” and “Spooky, Scary” deserve mention as well.

Yeah, I know this was not much of a review. It is just hard to say anything bad about this record. It is a fun release that is perfect for summer. Great energy, great songs, great vibes. And, they posted it online for free. Go get it, and if you disagree with me, make sure to tell me how much I suck. Get stoked.

Official site
Buy it @ Asian Man Records
Official download @ If You Make It

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REVIEW: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – "Belong"

After a great debut release, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart had set the bar pretty high. Their 2009 self titled record was an incredibly solid take on indie pop. Mixing together the heavily distorted guitars of The Jesus and Mary Chain, the effect heavy wall of sound of shoegaze, and the genre expected perishing alt rock voice. All in all, an enjoyable half hour of music.

In that same year, the “Higher Than the Stars” EP was released. It was kind of split as far as the sound. Some songs sounded like they could have been on the previous full length, but some were a little cleaner sounding. There was more straight forward pop songs to be found here.

In that vein, we have the new full length. Produced by Flood and mixed by Alan Moulder, this record sounds like it should have been released back during the 90’s post-grunge, alternative rock scene. This release has more in common with The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Siamese Dream” (or the more poppy stuff on “Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness”), than it does The Jesus and Mary Chain (or My Bloody Valentine). However, this is all tempered with a heavy dose of new wave synthesizer, and a touch of the poppier side of The Cure.

The songs are still either slow or midtempo, the lyrics are still hit or miss, the general twee guidelines are still met, but it is a cleaner sound. Kip Berman shows he his vocals have range beyond a monotone drone. Peggy Wang steps up with the keyboard use. They have taken the next step musically while still falling well within the dream pop thing (by the by, how many subgenres does this type of music need?).

Lyrics are the tripping point here. With the cleaner production, comes clearer vocals. Realistically, the lyrics on these types of records are usually twee. But, with dense production, heavy music effects, and a general vocal drone, they tend to not stand out over the instrumentation. Unfortunately, that is not the case here. From the titular song (and album opener), we get the line “tell yourself / it’s not yourself / but, no one else / can make me know there’s no one else.” From “Girl of 1,000 Dreams” we get this “I know everything is so-so / I know you could just fly solo / But come on, we are gonna go go around the world, ’cause you’re the girl of 1,000 dreams.” Lyrically, this is what we are dealing with most of the album. But, pop music (indie or otherwise) has never been know for it’s lyrical prowess.

But, the album is not all bad. While “My Terrible Friend” suffers from dubious lyrical content, it more than makes up for it musically. It might be one of the catchiest songs on the album. “Heart in Your Heartbreak” is another stand out track for similar reasons. Catchy instrumentation might not save a record from poor songwriting, but it can certainly help.

Also, I want to make special mention of the album cover. It is simple, but good. Their last full length had this overly contrasted photo. It looked like something Tim Armstrong of Rancid would shit out for whatever band was releasing something on Hellcat Records. This is a major step up.

This is a generally good album. Maybe a little too poppy. Lyrically, it needs a lot of help. But, if you are a person who has a soft spot for twee, check this out. Not the finest example of indie pop, but certainly not the worst either.

Official Site
Buy It (Slumberland Records)

Sexism In Punk / Articles To Read

It has been a little slow here at Team Reasonable headquarters. Mostly due to my busy schedule (and also my general feeling of awkwardness caused by the amount of traffic I have got since the “Emo Is Not Dead” shitstorm). There are some reviews coming up, maybe one this week. For sure the will be one next week. In the mean time, I want to direct you to a few things that are worth reading.

I Live Sweat is posting guest columns about sex and gender discrimination in the punk scene. They have two columns up at this time for that particular series. The first article is here. It was originally posted back in January. It was written by Lauren Denitzio of The Measure (SA). This particular article was quite polarizing. She has since done a follow up interview at Punknews about the subject. The second article is here. It was posted earlier this month. It was written by Mariel Loveland of Candy Hearts (a band I made the mistake of writing off, but have since become a Team Reasonable favourite).

Please check those out. As “progressive” as the punk scene likes to pretend it is, sexism and gender issues remain a big problem. As much as I try to avoid lame gender stereotyping, I am sure I am guilty of it at times as well (most embarrassingly in my P.S. Eliot review, which I keep meaning to rewrite).

So, read those articles. At least it is providing the punk scene a chance to discuss something useful for once, instead of the constant back and forth about what is/is not punk.

REVIEW: The Get Up Kids – "There Are Rules"

Alright, this is a hard album to write about. I am a huge fan of The Get Up Kids. Shit, I am wearing one of their t-shirts right now. Four Minute Mile, Something To Write Home About, and On A Wire are still getting a lot of plays. Sadly, this record does not have great replay value.

There Are Rules is the first full length for this band since they released Guilt Show in 2004. They then broke up in 2005. That record was a mixed bag at best. This is true for the latest. It starts off strong, the first two songs are a little synth heavy, but generally pop/rock songs that the band is known for. “Tithe” being the album opener would have set a great tone for the record. “Regent’s Court” followed up in a similar style. The latter was constantly getting dogged for sounding like a Strokes’ song. Not being well versed in that band’s catalog, I can not say if it is true or not. Sadly, save for the closer, the rest of this album is new wave synths, subdued guitars, but the occasional big chorus. I can get behind a band trying new things. But, did the world need another record like this? In a world where synth heavy post-punk and indie are the genres du jour, this fails to rise above the rest of that saturated market. And then, the album cover looks like a simplified version of a Big D & The Kids Table record.

James Dewees showed that he is more than capable of making textured, and in some cases eerie, music. His work on the keyboard and synthesizer are primarily what drives this record. As far as creating atmosphere, good on him. This is especially noticeable on “Rally ‘Round The Fool,” which is the longest track on the record. It clocks in at just a little over five minutes. The vocals sound fine, but both Matt Pryor and Jim Suptic are constantly singing with distortion on their vocals. In tone, they still sound like the same guys who recorded the classic songs in their back catalog, but a little too processed. The Pope brothers are the MVPs of this release. With as much experimentation and faux-art happening, they keep the rhythm section tight and in line.

It would have been a good record if it was released by a different band, but it is a bad record for The Get Up Kids. Their song writing strengths struggle to shine through. As does their ability to make excellent pop songs. More or less, they took the more experimental songs from the Simple Science EP, and just ran with them. They even include a song from it on here. Even then, it is the exact same version of Keith Case that appeared on the EP. Cutting and pasting songs like that will never not annoy me.

Overall, it sounds like The Get Up Kids playing Joy Division songs. It is a combination I should enjoy, but not really what I wanted. But, reunion records are always a little touch and go, right?

Official Site
Myspace

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.