Sunday, September 30, 2007

recs 9.30.07

City And Colour.
This is the solo project of Dallas Green, frontman for Alexisonfire. His acoustic songs are surprisingly heartwrenching and beautiful.
RIYL: Dustin Kensrue, Damien Rice, Rocky Votolato

The Bled.
Hardcore powerhouse The Bled are back full blast with their new album Silent Treatment. It's a no holds barred explosion of sound.
RIYL: Every Time I Die, He Is Legend, Norma Jean

Explosions In The Sky.
Brilliant experimental instrumental music. EITS songs are easy to lose yourself in.
RIYL: Unwed Sailor, Mogwai, The Album Leaf

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Interview - Saturday Looks Good To Me

K Records outfit Saturday Looks Good To Me are about to release their fourth LP, Fill Up The Room. Frontman Fred Thomas took some time to answer my questions about the creative process his band uses to make their unique style of indie pop.

PPJ: First, tell us your name and what you do in the band.

Fred Thomas: I'm Fred Thomas and I play guitar, sing and do some percussion stuff in SLGTM when we play live. I also write all the songs and lyrics and do most of the recording, production and arrangement of our records.

PPJ: How did SLGTM get started?

Fred: At the turn of the century in Ann Arbor, Michigan where the band started, me and a lot of my friends had built up this tiny community of musicians and homies who were really into music and conceptual ridiculousness. One of the ways this love of concepts and foolishness manifested itself was the idea that four or five different people could play music in different combinations and be legitimately considered twenty or thirty different bands or solo projects or whatever. So we were always starting new bands or different ideas with the same five or six people. One was Flashpapr, a kind of quiet slowcore folk improv group, one was Glass, a cheesey electro project, one was Saturday Looks Good To Me, a 60's inspired four track dance band and one was Slinner, a Pavement/Slint/Weezer tribute band where all the songs had to sound like equal parts of those three bands. I just kinda stuck with SLGTM from there, but that's how it began, as a ridiculous concept.

PPJ: How do you go about writing your songs?

Fred: It's always different. Sometimes an entire song comes to you at once, lyrics and melodies and different movements and everything are right there. Other times it takes months or years to find the perfect way to fit pieces of different ideas together.

PPJ: You're about to release your fourth album, and the band has gone through a lot of changes since the release of your first. What do you think have been the most positive and negative changes along the way?

Fred: That's a great question! I think if a musical project does the same thing record after record, it's a really bad thing. The band has evolved from a kind of recording-based entity that gathered together my friends and acquaintances and made really lush records into a full-fledged band that tours all the time, and translates these precious bedroom songs I make on my own into loud and energized communiques in the setting of a live show. This is reflected in our new record, which is probably the first one we can play live and come close to having it sound anything like the record, cause it's coming from the experience of the dance floor moment instead of the bedroom experiment. In my view, this is both the most positive and most negative change that's happened. Positive in the way that it allows for a full-circle appreciation of the songs and that we're changing and growing in an honest way. Negative in that it signifies the end of that dreamlike world where I would record anything and anyone, slow it down, throw it away, dig it back out of the trash, put reverb and delay on it and form this perfect sound, not thinking about the future or the past. It feels like growing up, which is always both good and bad.

PPJ: How did you get signed to K Records?

Fred: It was extremely mellow and intuitive. We had been working with Polyvinyl since 2003, and they've always done a great job and helped us out immensely, but we've also done a lot of smaller projects with other labels, so it was never an exclusive arrangement. When we finished our new record, I sent it to a bunch of labels to check out and K was the most excited about it of anyone, and I had been getting to be better friends with them for a few years, so it just seemed to
align perfectly.

PPJ: Would you consider "Fill Up The Room" a concept record? Why or why not?

Fred: I consider it more of a song cycle than a concept record. All eleven songs are about the ideas of love and death, and how those things are really the only things that truly effect our lives and all the choices we make. Different lyrics or musical parts repeat a lot and the context changes from song to song. All the songs sound different stylistically as well, which makes it really interesting to hear the same words or guitar lines and have it be a totally different listening experience than the last jam.

PPJ: What is your favorite aspect of writing and playing music and why?

Fred: I love recording. It's the most insular and the most vast place in music for me. You can do anything and everything's acceptable and beautiful, even the failed experiments.

PPJ: What do you hope to do with SLGTM in the future?

Fred: At some point I abandoned hope in the future. When we started playing, before we were even playing shows out of town, there was a lot of hubbub about bands in Detroit getting signed to major labels, and this kind of energy in the air that being in a band meant bigger and better things than just playing sweet shows and feeling good. I saw this corrupt the music of some people I knew and also felt a weird pressure on myself for who I was making songs for. Invisible friends. Invisible critics. As we went on there were more and more pressures and strange things like that, and I've found the only way to stay pure in your music is just to follow your muse and do everything you want to and not worry or think about where you'll end up. So no plans or desires for a future, though there will probably be one.

PPJ: Finally, tell us three bands you think we should be listening to.

Fred: Since I moved to Brooklyn, High Places are my favorite band. Two folks making this really perfect percussive, dreamy and uncomfortable sound that falls into a heavy eastern/Hawaiian sounding bed of noise that echoey, slushy and sweet vocal melodies glide above. They're perfect. They did a remix for us. The Dirty Projectors' new Black Flag revamp record is pretty hard to stop listening to as well, but for the sound you never want to end, this extremely rare record by a british folk rock act called Tony Caro & John has been reissued recently and it's a flawless, homemade masterpiece that finds a midway between the minimalist hippie bliss of Tyrannosaurus Rex and somber psychedelic rock band production without the rock band. It's transcendent music, perfect sound forever.

Thanks again to Fred for answering these questions, and to Jesse at Force Field PR. Make sure to pick up Fill Up The Room on October 23rd, and to catch the band on tour with The Blow now.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Interview - Zolof The Rock & Roll Destroyer

Pennsylvania's Zolof The Rock And Roll Destroyer have made a name for themselves with upbeat, female-fronted pop tunes. They're about to release their sophomore LP, Schematics, and frontwoman Rachel Minton was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.

PPJ: First, tell us your name and what you do in the band.

Rachel Minton: My name is Rachel & I play keyboard & sing in Zolof.

PPJ: I'm sure you've been asked this a thousand times before, but can you explain where you came up with your band name?

Rachel: True, we're asked this question a lot & I usually lie & tell a more interesting story about how we got the name. But the truth is that one of our original members is a writer (plays/fiction) & he had a character in his writings called 'Zolof The Rock & Roll Destroyer'. But 'Zolof' was a masseuse to the rock star community, so he was actually tenderizing rock more than destroying it.

PPJ: Schematics will be your first LP in about four years. How do you feel you've grown musically since the release of Jalopy Go Far?

Rachel: I feel like we've learned to be more honest with our music. Jalopy Go Far & The Popsicle EP were more pop, as far as content and sound. We're still all about melody & immediate gratification, but these songs are more about being frustrated and feeling kind of crazy. Fun, but honest.

PPJ: Have you ever found it hard to maintain a focus for the band with so many members coming and going?

Rachel: No, not really. Zolof is essentially Vincent and myself & we have different friends that have played with us over the years covering bass, drums & keyboard, but we have always been the creative core of Zolof.

PPJ: You've collaborated with a wide variety of other artists over the years. Who are some of your favorite people to work with, and why?

Rachel: Reel Big Fish, The Loved Ones, Motion City Soundtrack, Will from Straylight Run, Anthony Green & so many more. On recordings or live, collaborating with people you love and respect is a blast.

PPJ: How did you go about writing and recording Schematics?

Rachel: Vincent & myself are the creative core of Zolof. One of us will come up with a melody & build the song around that. We always demo the songs so that we can step back & see how we feel about them and then move forward with writing.

PPJ: How do you keep up the energy of your live shows when you're on long tours?

Rachel: Playing is the only thing that keeps you going when tour gets long and strenuous. I mean, long drives kill momentum, but once you're hanging out and talking with kids at the show it really pumps you up again.

PPJ: Which of your songs are you the most proud of and why?

Rachel: I love all of our songs for different reasons & they've all documented a time in our life, but like a lot of musicians I'm most proud of our newest songs. Again, I think they're very honest and more revealing than our previous releases.

PPJ:What drives you to keep writing and playing music?

Rachel: For myself and Vincent, playing & writing together keeps us doing it. We have such a great time & it's so gratifying. I think that we'll continue as long as it's fun.

PPJ: Finally, tell us three bands you think we should be listening to.

Rachel: The Matches, Motion City Soundtrack, & The Loved Ones.

Thanks again to Rachel for answering these questions, and to Mike Cubillos at Earshot Media for arranging the interview. Make sure to catch Zolof on tour with Motion City Soundtrack now, and to pick up Schematics on September 25th.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Show: The Starting Line

The Starting Line, All Time Low, Permanent Me, and Four Year Strong at Toad's Place, 9.19.07

The Richmond venue was surprisingly underattended for this talent-filled tour. However, those smart enough to be present were treated to quite a good show.

Massachusetts-based pop hardcore band Four Year Strong began promptly at 7PM and tore through most of the tracks on their new LP, Rise Or Die Trying, which had been released that day. Their setlist included:

Bada Bing! Wit A Pipe!
Abandon Ship Or Abandon All Hope
Wrecked 'Em? Damn Near Killed 'Em
Beatdown In The Key Of Happy
Heroes Get Remembered, Legends Never Die

They left out my personal favorite, "Prepare To Be Digitally Manipulated," but all is forgiven as their set was high energy. Their songs translate fairly well live, considering how slick the production on their record is. However, someone needs to inform audience members that a weak circle pit of one or two kids doesn't need to be sustained for the entirety of the set.

Permanent Me is a band I've never paid much attention to, and their live show merely underlines why: it was lacking a lot of the heart seen from the other bands on the night's bill, and the songs felt very repetitious.

All Time Low picked up the slack with their explosive show. The Maryland group busted out all their usual high kicks, guitar spins, and profanity - everything that makes an ATL show fun. They played a few tracks from their upcoming full-length, So Wrong It's Right, as well as favorites from the Put Up Or Shut Up EP:

Dear Maria
Jasey Rae
Running From Lions
Let It Roll
The Beach
Six Feet Under The Stars
Coffee Shop Soundtrack
Break Out! Break Out!
The Girl's A Straight-Up Hustler

Despite their pervasive vulgarity (guitarist Jack Barakat announced they would be "touching dicks and sucking tits" in the back after the show), All Time Low's endless energy makes them anything but boring to watch. I'm continually impressed by them and their growing fanbase.

The venue was still pretty empty by the time The Starting Line took the stage, but they played as if they were facing a sold out crowd. The band performed a nice mix of songs from all three of their LPs, including:

Up And Go
Inspired By The $
Making Love To The Camera
Are You Alone?
Surprise, Surprise
Bedroom Talk
Something Left To Give
The Best Of Me

It was interesting to see how parts of the crowd were excited to hear new songs, while others only showed interest in material from Say It Like You Mean It. The set went smoothly - the band has everything down solid. Even when, halfway through the set, an audience member was dragged out of the venue in a headlock by security, the band didn't flinch. It was a good, enjoyable show overall.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Review - Shape

Artist: Shape
Album: Raised Near The Power Lines
Label: Division East Records
Release Date: March 27th, 2007

One doesn't usually think of New Jersey and immediately think of great MCs. However, the scrawny, white Jersey boy who calls himself Shape is clearly aiming to put his hometown on the hip-hop map.

Raised Near The Power Lines begins unconventionally with the sounds of a scratchy record player and distant horns. The track lazily flows into "Darkside Of The Silhouette," where we first hear Shape's meandering flow. His words are bitter, but he doesn't spit them at the listener.

In the excellent "Rising Up To The Top," Shape dedicates the track to Jam Master Jay while denouncing the senseless violence in mainstream rap, pointing fingers at artists like 50 Cent for encouraging kids to adopt the gangster lifestyle.

Shape's lethargic rhymes are very similar to other "backpack rappers" like Atmosphere and Aesop Rock. He also shares the unpolished style of these artists, rather than the highly produced sounds of Talib Kweli or Consequence. There are tracks where he picks up his pace, "Stereo Gun Unplugged" probably being the best example. This particular song is also notable for the line Sometimes I rob like an emotional white guy / 'Cause all I wanna do is open shows for Bright Eyes.

Periodically, the album has instrumental interludes that return to the record-scratch sounds of the opening track. Seeing as the album runs over an hour in length, these interludes seems a bit unnecessary. The tone of the album stays intact just fine without them.

Shape does a great job of using nontraditional instruments like pianos and horns to great effect, particularly the piano loop on "Something That Could Make You Do Wrong." Without the piano, the song wouldn't be worth noting, but with it, the song sticks in your head.

As stated previously, the album is a little on the long side - 19 tracks and 1 hour 11 minutes is a bit excessive. With a little bit of trimming, Shape would have an album that could put him on par with heavy hitters like Atmosphere and Jedi Mind Tricks. His lyrics are smart and he knows how to use interesting samples to catch your ear. If he keeps at it, people will begin to note West Orange, New Jersey, and the home of great hip-hop.

01. Introduction To Power Lines
02. Darkside Of The Silhouette
03. Every Step Forward (Two Steps Back)
04. Rising Up To The Top (ft. Atbash Cipher)
05. Stereo Gun Unplugged *
06. BY3X's Favorite Beat (Instrumental)
07. Something That Could Make You Do Wrong
08. Rock Like This (ft. Atbash Cipher)
09. Empeecee2K
10. Nasty As A Bag Of Yak/Richard Pryor *
11. Early Mourning (Interlude)
12. Ax Throwers (ft. Tame One)
13. Gary Oldman (ft. Atbash Cipher, C-Minus, Bully Mouth, GDP, & Def Dom)
14. Playing To Get Famous
15. OMG (I'm Going Crazy) (ft. GDP)
16. Super Heroes (ft. Bill Hicks) *
17. The 7th Hour
18. The 7th Hour Pt. 2 (Instrumental)
19. Heart Beats

* - standout tracks

For fans of: Atmosphere, Sage Francis, Cage.


Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Review: Four Year Strong

Artist: Four Year Strong
Album: Rise Or Die Trying
Label: I Surrender Records
Release Date: 9.18.07

Listening to Four Year Strong makes me tired.

You might think that's a negative thing to say about a band. In this case however, it's a compliment. I get tired because I imagine all the mosh pits, gang choruses, and synchronized handclaps that a Four Year Strong show must be full of. In my mind, I'm in the pit screaming with the best of them. It's exhilarating.

Four Year Strong have blended hardcore and pop-punk beautifully with their debut album, Rise Or Die Trying. Beginning with slowly building sirens on "The Take Over," and exploding to life with "Prepare to Be Digitally Manipulated," this album is a half hour of pounding adrenaline.

Songs like "Heroes Get Remembered, Legends Never Die" and "Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Hell" use the double bass generously to great effect. The songs are driven by the drumbeats, and the squealing guitars are merely added emphasis.

Lyrically, the band is reminiscent of Fall Out Boy circa Take This To Your Grave. The best example of this is probably in "If He's Here, Who's Runnin' Hell?"

Take it or leave me behind / because you know that you never did care at all / my poor ears have had it / you're coming in static / Tuned out across the board / like a million times before / you're living it up now / just wait until it goes down

The similarity to Fall Out Boy doesn’t stop there – so many of the guitar riffs and vocal hooks recall pre-From Under The Cork Tree Fall Out Boy. Pete Wentz always claims to be influenced by Lifetime – Four Year Strong sound like a perfect mashup of the two bands.

The album never pauses, not even for a second. The slowest song is "Catastrophe," and even on that song, the band has only taken the speed down about half a notch. If Cartel were to suddenly start listening to a lot of Set Your Goals, they might sound like this song. Though this track slows things down a bit, Four Year Strong dive right back into the thick of it in the next few songs.

The only criticism I have of this album is there is very little variation between the songs. If you're not listening to the lyrics, the neverending breakdowns and gang vocals tend to blur together. It's clear that Four Year Strong have found a formula that works for them, and they're going to stick to it very closely. I hope that they can find a way to vary their sound more in future releases, before they run this formula into the ground.

I can imagine this album turning up in a lot of end of the year lists. And I can also imagine that a lot of other people will let Four Year Strong become their new guilty pleasure. As for me, I can't wait to catch the band on tour and finally get to take part in those mosh pits and handclaps.

01. The Take Over
02. Prepare To Be Digitally Manipulated *
03. Abandon Ship Or Abandon All Hope
04. Heroes Get Remembered, Legends Never Die *
05. Wrecked 'Em? Damn Near Killed 'Em
06. Catastrophe
07. Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Hell
08. Bada Bing! Wit' A Pipe! *
09. Beatdown In The Key Of Happy
10. If He's Here, Who's Runnin' Hell?
11. Maniac (R.O.D.)

* - standout tracks

For Fans Of: Set Your Goals, Hit The Lights, Take This To Your Grave-era Fall Out Boy

MySpace | PureVolume

Sunday, September 2, 2007

9.2.07 recommendations

These two recommendations come via the show I hosted at my school last night. Both bands put on impressive performances.

Pop-punk from Philly, they put on an explosive show and are all genuinely nice guys. They have just recorded the follow-up to This Could Be A Possibility, and I'm definitely looking forward to it.
RIYL: Spitalfield, Cartel, Hit The Lights

You, Me, And Everyone We Know.
Imagine if Say Anything started writing dance rock tunes. These guys always bring the party - make sure you catch them on their upcoming tour with I Am The Avalanche.
RIYL: The Graduate, Head Automatica, Brighten