Bandy: The Challengers

https://underthecountertapes.bandcamp.com/album/the-challengers

Let’s begin this album review with a trip into the past. Back when all you had to do to find alternative music was go “Left of the Dial.” That period in time, that millenials only heard about, but Gen X’ers absolutely revere (from what I’ve gathered). Back when Nirvana hadn’t exploded onto the scene, and college radios played eclectic music. Well, actually they could still be playing eclectic music–but who listens to radio anyway?

Music history up to that point had kind of been like a dialogue between genres. Where Rock music said, “Fuck disco, it’s got no substance.” And Disco was like, “What?” And then Punk said, “Fuck Rock music. You guys are literally singing about the Hobbit, and playing Bach.” That’s the TL;DR version of how punk was started.

Now Punk was four chords of teenage angst. Then what happens to the punk rocker–who shredded on those four chords–when he goes to college? Gets laid? Learns to play his instrument? Well that’s when Alternative Rock comes into the picture, and that’s where we get to the “Left of the Dial.”

Which is the best way to introduce Bandy’s The Challengers. An album that has the fun and exuberance of a frat house, but with the intelligence of a graduate.

So what’s a better song to introduce this album, than Bring the Boys to the Basement? When that opening opening guitar hits your eardrums, it’s pure heaven. Then when aggressive strumming stops, it pauses for a moment, and then you hear it. That melodic plucking. Which in that brief moment in time, is all you need to really get this album. It’s aggressive while melodic, raw but sincere, lo-fi yet expertly produced. This dichotomous relationship is the force between every song. Every track sounds like the sonic equivalent of “Saturdays is for the Boys.” Yet as anybody who has been to a party knows, one moment you’re shotgunning a beer, the next you’re telling a heartrending story about a girl you used to date. It’s that added layer of humanity that makes music like this really work.

The track ebbs and flows, yet retains this sense of youthfulness. Then you hear the vocals. The vocals have that masculine grit. Which makes it, oh so charismatic. Like the guy who walks into the party and everybody knows his name. They all know he’s a party animal, you expect a crazy wild night, and you get it. But then when it’s all quiet, people are asleep, and you two go out for a smoke. It’s just you two, and you just know him as the crazy wild party animal, but then he does something that surprises you. A random act of kindness, an emotional story, some endearing character flaw, something that brings him down to earth–to your level. It’s then you realize that it’s not because of his shenanigans that’s what makes him popular, it’s his humanity.

So while Need for Reefer doesn’t really sell my case for the vocals. After all it’s just a guy singing about needing some weed. Yet we’re still having a good time, and we haven’t gotten to the after hours. So Need for Reefer is one of those songs that you can’t help but smile at. Whether it’s the Little Richard guitar playing, the ole fashioned rock n’ roll vocals, or just the subject matter. Anybody who doesn’t crack a smile on this track has had some serious tragedy happen in their lives. Because unless Reefer has burnt your crops, raided your village, and kidnapped your daughter; there is no possible way you cannot smile at this song.

It’s not irony, since being ironic is a social clutch to avoid being made fun of for being sincere. No it’s pure fun. It’s the type of song you write with your friends, laughing to yourselves on how you’re getting away with it. An attitude the underground scene desperately needs. Where people are either these tortured tormented souls, or are so ironic that nothing really matters. Everybody needs to take a breather and not take things so seriously. And if you want that in music form, then this is the track for you.

Now I touched on it briefly, there’s no denying the 50’s rock feel of this track. While I said that punk was a response to Rock–I was half right. Rock music had grown indulgent, and punk wanted to strip that indulgence down to it’s bare essentials. Now how they did this, was to combine the grittiness of say The Stooges, and the 4 chord song structure of popular 50’s music. The Ramones, in particular, were influenced just as much by Phil Spector and 50’s pop music, as they were in The Stooges. So punk has always had this unconscious or accidental throwback to a 50’s rock n’ roll. And no track better exemplifies this than Need for Reefer.

Next in Tale o’ Whoa we get that homage of punk music, with it’s bizarro lyrics, energy, and short brief guitar solos. Yet one thing that has got to be mentioned is the drumming. Now while Trying to Reach You is a better illustration of the drumming prowess that’s displayed throughout the album. This is the first glimpses you get into Bandy’s drumming prowess. The drums are not just expansive, THEY’RE HUGE. They say that Keith Moon was an excellent drummer not solely because of his talent, but for his ability to use every single drum on his drum set. This whole entire album is a perfect representation of how a drummer should play drums. Yeah, brevity is the soul of wit and whatever. But if you’re going to buy a drumset you better use the whole damn drumset.

Now remember when I mentioned earlier how the vocals are incredibly charismatic? Not just because they have that rowdy kind of edge, but because they have a degree of humanity? Well Passing the Rhyme is the track to show how tender the vocals can be. As tender a charismatic singer of a “Good time rock n’ roll band” can be. The beginning guitar has this sort of nostalgic wistful kind of feel, while the vocals croon, growl, and howl. Even the piano flourishes and guitar solos, have this tinge of sadness.

Though it’s not a sadness that drenches you in melancholy. Rather it’s that kind of sadness that comes from a bad breakup. Yeah, it sucks that you’re going through a breakup, but God damn if you aren’t relieved it’s over. When the singer sings “La la la” and you hear that chorus–it doesn’t matter if you haven’t gone through a break up–because you’re already feelin’ it.

Now let’s jump into I Dream of Trash and Skin Diving in the Sea of Trash. This is the point in time that if you don’t “get” the album, these are the songs to listen to. It’s also why you should listen to albums in their entirety rather than cherry picking songs, but that’s a whole other issue. These tracks are the anthem of punk rock. If you wanted to distill punk to it’s purest element, away from all the microgenres, and bullshit–this is it. It’s that child like song lyrics that calls back from songs like “I just wanna sniff some glue.” It’s that unbridled creativity that makes you stop and think, “I can write songs about diving into trash?” It’s the track that shows you that everything is possible, and just when you get hooked on the lyrics–Bandy pulls the rug from under your feet.

How do they do that? Well they slow down the track, or just play slower and sing lower. The distorted guitar sputters out of control in the background. And it sounds like everything is falling apart. Then when it sounds like the track is about to fall into chaos. BAM. Skin Diving in the Sea of Trash starts banging away, and everything falls into place. It’s that controlled anarchy, that is what made punk great. And when I say controlled, I mean there was anarchy while music was blasting through the speakers. That kind of spirit in punk, has been dying for awhile, yet listening to this track gives me hope.

Finally we get to The Truth is a Lonely Place, the victory lap in an already great album. A song that swells up in punk energy, to then slow down and deliver some soul. Yet when Bandy says the “Truth is a Lonely Place” I think they mean that being a good old rock band is a lonely place. After all there wouldn’t be an army of 12 year olds born in the wrong generation if this wasn’t the case.

When starting this blog I was wanted to capture that “Left of the Dial” kind of experience that people had back when “alternative” music was still in it’s underground phase. This is why I started this blog. This album has energy, creativity, and just the right amount of charm–it’s something you can’t find anyway else. It’s why when I write reviews on albums, I’m almost always blown away as to why they aren’t getting enough attention. And why it’s always so exciting to hear.

So obviously, without a doubt, if you want an album that reminds you of why you like music. Or why you make music. Then this is the album for you. With that I’ve give this album my full recc.

newtie: Pony!

newtie: Pony! review

https://newtie.bandcamp.com/album/pony

First off let’s address the elephant in the room, any album cover with a dog smoking on it, is instantly the greatest album cover ever. You can’t beat that. If you’re not sold on the album cover itself, I don’t know what happened in your life, but you need thoughts and prayers. Okay, okay, I know this is a music blog. I can’t write a whole article devoted to how much I like the album cover. I gotta review the actual music. So the music is really, really, good. But that dog is so funny amirite? Doesn’t he know that dogs can’t smoke cigarettes? Alright, alright, I’ll review the music.

So to begin with Pony! the first track Yellowlite is incredibly ballsy. There are a lot of risks taken with this album, and for the opening track to only feature no vocals (except for humming), an acoustic guitar, and a drumkit is a bold move. Especially when the lyrics are so incredibly creative, the chord progressions wonderfully inventive, and the lo-fi feel so well done–to begin the album with this kind of intro is a bold move. Yet it pays off so well. It’s like when an actor is typecast to play a certain type of role, say Brian Cranston–who was only known for his role as Hal on Malcolm in the Middle– to hear that he was on a TV show about a high school teacher turning into a meth Kingpin, sounds like the worst possible idea ever on paper. Although on Malcolm in the Middle you could see he has potential to be a great actor. Yet it’s until you watch the transformation from a guy who is in his whitey tighteys unable to shoot a gun, to a meth kingpin, do you fully appreciate the performance that has taken place. Likewise on this album, Yellowlite shows the potential of how great this album is going to be, yet until you listen to it all the way through do you finally get why the beginning track works so well.

Gum has probably some of the most creative lyrics I’ve heard in a long time. It doesn’t get much better than “Stick a fork in a microwave, to dry your hair.” Even the chorus, “Gum, Gum, Gum, Mama give me some,” gives such a carefree attitude, that’s both really child-like and filled with gleeful abandonment. The lyrics, vocals, guitar, and tambourine just adds to this youthful exuberance. Kind of like how in pointillism, the painter uses small dots to create a landscape; newtie does the same thing with every single instrument, and lyrics comprised of non-sequiturs to paint a picture of a girl that’s carefree to a point of irresponsibility, yet as a listener we can’t help but like her.

Yet that perception changes in Lord Knows (I’ve Been Good) with it’s lo-fi false starts like that of a person unable to express themselves. The guitar has a more dejected melody, and there isn’t any percussion used to lighten the mood. The lyrics aren’t non-sequiturs as before it’s more focused on the perception of someone who wallows in self loathing, and compares themselves to the girl before. This person who “Killed themselves clean” to the girl “Who loved herself, so she was never cold.” That yes, the girl before could’ve been shallow, childish, irresponsible, chaotic, etc. but she never killed herself clean, she was never cold. She never lost that child-like sense of wonder, by gaining self consciousness of adulthood. To get what I mean, back when I took acting classes, the acting coach gave this lesson on why it’s easier to be an actor as a child rather than an adult. Because as a child, say that you are on a merry-go-round, when you’re say younger than 6, the ride is extremely fun, because you can fully enjoy the ride. Yet when you’re 10 and you go on a merry-go-round, you’re all of a sudden conscious of other people’s perception of you. You frown when you get on the merry-go-round, because it is after all a “ride for little kids” and you’re a big kid, so you gotta show everyone how you’re no longer a little kid. Likewise the perception of the girl in Gum would horrifying to be compared to as an adult, yet in Lord Knows (I’ve Been Good) we see the downside to losing our child-like sense of wonder.

The next song Shithead Blues, starts out with a really great groove, and continues with it’s lo-fi feel. Even the beginning lyrics starts out, by stating that, “Sitting down at the Kmart Parking lot,” (which let’s be honest I don’t think there are many Kmarts left), and blues inflected chorus of “Shit head blues” gives it a nice trip down to memory lane. Whether it’s the production, lyricism, or influences. That coupled with the lyricism about a man who, “Spent all my money, on my supposed honey,” and “You know that she loves me a lot, I think it’s true, I’ve never been one to know much, about women and such.” Gives the track a self deprecating tone that’s not heard that often in modern music. It’s especially refreshing to hear a song about women, that’s neither indulgently romantic, nor says that they don’t need women due to some innate narcissism. It just says, I dunno what I’m doing. Which let’s be real, any guy who says they got women figured out, is either trying to sell you something or has got some serious skeletons in the closet.

Honey (Tremblin’ Man) is that it’s a lot like Yellowlite, in that it’s incredibly minimalist, but it goes even a step further. It features only a harmonica in the beginning; then that gets taken away and all that is left is clapping and bluesy singing of only the word “Honey.” That’s it. And it works perfectly. You get an understanding of what is lost, not only of this person’s “Honey” but that of music as well. There’s a reason why the blues in the U.S. struck a chord worldwide and spoke to so many people. It could be to circumstance, after all, America was in an incredibly unique position after WWII to export all of it’s cultural influence. Yet this is a question I have to ask, what would be the words you would use to describe this track? Would it be cheesy? Existential dread? Depressing? No, not at all. The only word that immediately comes to my mind, is soulful. So think about it, if all that was used was vocals singing “Honey,” a harmonica, and clapping to create that kind of mood–is it hard to see why this music resonated so much with the whole world? There are only 3 instruments! Imagine what could be done an orchestra!

The next song Her Gun, begins with such a great chord progression that really shows off the musical chops with this album. The lyrics as always are excellent, except this time they take on a tragic tone. “She never knows to shoot her gun,” “She never knows when to have fun.” The youthful exuberance Gum is gone. Instead the lyrics plead the woman not to, “Waste a way another year.” The shift from Gum‘s fun poppy sound, to that of a more tragic solo acoustic guitar playing, only adds to the tragedy. As we now see the consequences of that carefree attitude, the creativity, spontaneity, and childishness that we the listener appreciated on Gum. Which is the tragedy of adulthood that while trying to “appear” to be more mature, we lose parts of ourselves in the process, we become less authentic, less sincere, and when push comes to shove we never know how to truly let go and have fun. Yet those who try to retain all of those traits that we lose as we become, they have to face the real world, and the real world has no patience for adults who refuse to adult. The tragedy is that the idealistic become cynical, the imaginative become dull, the funny become serious, and the youthful become old. And no other song captures this better than Her Gun. The next song Cow Tongue,which is even more minimalist than any of the tracks before it, featuring only a harmonica; plays a requiem for all that was lost in Her Gun.

Mouthwash with only it’s morose guitar playing, and self-flagellating lyrics comparing themselves to mouthwash that needs to be spit out. The self-loathing and almost envy of Lord Knows (I’ve Been Good) is fully realized. Though the self hatred here isn’t one that’s self absorbed. It’s one that is regretful for it’s effect on to others specifically the state of the woman in Her Gun. Like clipping a bird’s wings, the very act of getting involved in this woman’s life through the very adult world of dating and courtship, has caused her to be unable to fly. To live life to it’s fullest as she was able to before. Even the vocals are barely audible as though too ashamed of what they have done. It’s only in the next track we get the depth of the pain that was caused.

Black Ice sounds like the most sinister, depressing soundtrack is being played over a cassette player, and the person listening can’t be bothered even with music–as they replay it over, and over again. A type of sadness and regret that even music can’t even put into a proper context. Which is this track stands out like a sore thumb to the rest of the album, yet still at the same time retains the same lo-fi aesthetic as the rest of the album.

Finally we get to Christ Sits on the Sun, which is the perfect conclusion to this album. It would be difficult for any piece of American music to exclude it’s original muse, Jesus Christ, who in this case elevates the tragedy to that of biblical proportions. Whether people agree or not, Christianity is ingrained into the average American’s DNA–whether as a thesis or antithesis–and as newties’ bandcamp states “A twinge of the heartland,” anybody who is even if someone drives through the American heartland, at a passing glance can see Christianity’s influence on American culture. So when newtie states, “God came and spoke to them, and I myself learned how to read, and I myself learned how to steal.” The separation doesn’t merely stem from that of adulthood from childhood, but a separation from man from God.

The best way to summarize the themes of this album would be a quote from a Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis, “When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” We as musicians often forget our musical heritage often times getting caught up in the latest musical trends without looking back and admiring what preceded us. We look at it as backwards, or not as sophisticated; but this album, while retreading old ground, captures the soulfulness that made American music the cultural juggernaut that it is today. Not only that, but it shows us that we don’t need the latest greatest, technology–after all Honey (Tremblin’ Man) proved to us that we can make music just by clapping and singing. Yet we often become self conscious as soon as what others might think, we become afraid to express ourselves, to have fun on the merry-go-round with our creativity, and as a result our music becomes dull and uninteresting.

newtie as I said before is ballsy, and their EP Pony! is a must listen to any musician, as it provides the formula of being creative. Which is, don’t be afraid to express yourself. Indulge in your childlike creativity, and remain true to yourself. And with a message like that, I can’t help but give this album my full recc.

Cyparissus: faun

 

Have you ever gone out to a movie with friends, and one of your asshole friends says, “Yeah it was good…but the book was so much better!” Usually they say that just to gain brownie points among his/her friends to show how “They’re the intellectual of the group.” It’s annoying yeah, but it does contain some valid points.

The reason the book is always better than the movie, is because the book allows for your own imagination to play out the story. You breathe life into each page you read, you create the world the characters inhabit, and the author merely provides the plot.

I say all of this in review of this album, because Cyparissus’ faun does the exact same thing but with music. Cyparissus creates a sonic playground for your mind to wonder and play in. It’s an album to sit down after a long day of work, and to work on that novel you’ve always dreamed on writing. You can’t just listen to one song, like how you can’t have Harry Potter just be about a kid with a thunderbolt scar on his forehead. This is an album that creates a world and atmosphere and that you must sit down and listen to all the way through.

deer’s face in front of portal, to the wind is the poison of the grass really sets the stage and the tone for the rest of the album. It’s a desolate and lonely sound. It’s a cloudy, windy, cold, rainy day, and you’re soaked to the skin. The pulsating pads and piercing ambient noises makes you feel like you’re the only person on earth.

The whole album really feels like the soundtrack to some Scandinavian film that has never been made. Ingmar Bergman’s films as far as I can recall, never really had a soundtrack (or if his did they usually were instruments that were played on scene, I can’t remember). But if his films did have a soundtrack it would be this album.

By the time the album reaches tick your mind begins to play tricks on you. There’s a condition called, musical ear syndrome. Where essentially you hear music in places where there isn’t any music, for example you hear the A/C and you start hearing an orchestra. I first thought I was imagining things, and then I jrealized that this track has such subtle sounds that on repeat listen, you can hear the subtle changes in pitches and tones. It takes a really delicate hand to be able to craft something so nuanced, and subtle. That and the overall semi lo-fi experience of the track creates a unique sound that I haven’t heard done that well in awhile.

bloodtype introduces such a change in tone, that instead of a wall of sound it feels more like a waterfall of sound. It stands out not for the fact it’s loud–quite the contrary–it’s actually not that loud at all, it’s that the rest of the album is just so quiet. A juxtaposition like that always highlights that which preceded it. In this case the quietness of the album before really highlights the introspection, and the introspection that as a result created that imaginary playground for you to play in.

Next up we have the longest, and shortest tracks. gelid which means icy cold, and colorplate. Both of these tracks take on a lot more sinister of a quality. Where before the album sounded isolated, introspective, and lonely; this part of the album feels like an invasion of that loneliness. As though you were alone for a very long time and finally allowed someone into your life, only for them to fuck you over and betray you. Which begs the question to a creative person: is it worth allowing other people into your the world you’ve created? Which is a question which kind of gets addressed in the last two songs.

The last two songs song dytikos and hold you like a sepulchre answers these questions. dytikos begins with a drum, the type of drum that’s in any movie signifying the call to action. It maintains the sinister quality of the prior tracks, and with it’s call to action doesn’t bode well, and we get hints of what kind of action that is required with this track in hold you like a selpulchre; selpulchre being, “a small room or monument, cut in rock or built of stone, in which a dead person is laid or buried.” And with it’s sad melancholy sound ends in a mysterious note. The album ends with that type of ending that in a movie, would make people pour over each frame trying to figure out the “true ending” and to not be left on a cliffhanger. And to the question of, whether it’s worth allowing other people into our own world we’ve created, it’s something that you’ll have to figure out for yourself. For we couldn’t ask ourselves these types of questions if Cyparissus didn’t invite us into their world, but at the same time, the album leaves us hanging wanting for more.

For an album, an imaginative playground, and overall world to inhabit. I give this album my recc