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Music Reviews

The Suicide Commandos

The Suicide Commandos

Time Bomb

Twin/Tone

The Suicide Commandos first album, Make a Record is an underrated pop-punk gem, one which inspired fellow Minneapolis bands like Husker Du and the Replacements and showed that the punk rock produced in the flyover states could be every bit as good as the stuff coming out from the coasts.

Almost 40 years later, the Suicide Commandos release Time Bomb, a collection of rock and roll inspired pop punk that should please old fans and newcomers alike.

While not the pop-punk masterpiece of Make a Record, Time Bomb shows a wide range of influences, from early rock and roll to Ramones-esque punk. Yearning pop nuggets like “For Such a Mean Time” recall the vocal harmonies on “Hallelujah Boys” and “Frogtown,” and the raging pop-punk of “When I Do It, It’s OK” echo the faster tracks on Make a Record. You might have to get past some dad jokes throughout, but that’s a small price to pay for a worthy follow up.

www.twintone.com

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Music Reviews

Hear The Sirens

Hear The Sirens

Renegade

I like this band, but they sound a lot like Green Day and they’re not really doing a lot that hasn’t been floating around since the mid ’90s. That’s not a bad thing; there’s some really strong power pop/punk on this disc and I can point to a dozen well-known punk outfits that tour constantly but don’t have the clear focus of this four-piece.

There’s a guy named Scott Goodrich up front. His vocal cords are strong and not yet destroyed by untrained singing, cigarettes, and cheap vodka. The sound consists of basic power chords and hook and bridge songs, and I think they are pissed off about something like family abuse (“Figure it Out”) or skanky girls (“Bad Excuses”). I’m not hearing a college radio turntable hit, but I’ve listened through a few times and the sound is certainly growing on me like a hungover 5 o’clock shadow. Put them on a hot 11pm rotation and something good might just happen.

Hear the Sirens: www.hearthesirens.comhearthesirens.bandcamp.com

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Music Reviews

A Loss For Words

A Loss for Words

No Sanctuary

Rise Records

More itchy buzzy power pop with sliding guitars, fuzzed up bass and angry driving lyrics flow from A Loss for Words, the latest band from Boston. They cook a solid high energy presentation with cool album covers and boast a trio of EPs, and this 11-track set is their second full album. I guess people still release albums, but for newbie bands they might as well post songs on their websites as soon as they get them mixed.

I didn’t get a track list in this download and I’m terrible at guessing titles, even when they’re available at Amazon.com, but I like the sound. The band is better at projecting tight melodies and hooky-sounding cuts while lead vocalist Matt Arsenault struggles to make himself heard. There are dual guitarists: “Nevada” Smith and Marc Dangora, and both make a full, rich, and satisfying ear-bud-testing sound. In back there’s a drummer (Jack McHugh) and off to one side a bassist (Mike Adams). Lyrically these guys are where most bands are: looking for a girlfriend, railing against the injustice of the world, and hoping to make “tour bus full of groupies” rock star status. They might rise to that hallowed level; their playing is confident, they know their songs are the ones America wants to hear, and they even get out and play as often as possible.

These guys rock, and are ready to roll. Give ’em a listen; it’s good for your soul.

A Loss for Words: www.myspace.com/alossforwordswww.riserecords.com

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Music Reviews

Logan Square

Logan Square

Pessimism & Satire

Fearless

A lot of people love disposable cameras. They’re cheap, they’re readily available and they take pictures. Sure, so maybe your pictures won’t be of the same kind of quality that you’d get from using professional gear, but your average consumer doesn’t know that much about photography anyway. They wouldn’t even know what to do with the real deal. Disposable camera quality may not be top notch, but it’s solid, and in most cases it’s damn near good enough. Your friends and neighbors will most likely never know the difference.

If punk rock was a camera, Logan Square would be the disposable Kodak Max Outdoor Single Use camera. OK, so that sounds horribly mean, but I don’t mean it as an insult really. It’s just the truth.

Pessimism and Satire is a solid album. It’s not going to challenge you, or change the way you look at anything. It’s not going to inspire imitators, for it, itself, is an imitation. And that’s not a bad thing necessarily. Logan Square is a fun, hard-working suburban punk rock act that can trace the ancestry of their sound back to Jawbreaker’s Dear Me by way of The Alkaline Trio, The Movie Life, and Armor For Sleep during their more “emo” moments.

For all their lack of originality, it’s hard to completely discount tracks like “Misdirection” and “I’m So Sorry,” which are both catchy and well-written songs with plenty of power and energy to get any rock club kid bouncing. The polish added by producer Sean O’Keefe elevates this album to something that can stand confidently on the same plane as the other acts O’Keefe has worked with, including Fall Out Boy, Hawthorne Heights and Motion City Soundtrack. Logan Square is a perfect opener for any of these other bands, all of whom seem to be enjoying more than their share of the limelight these days. Aren’t they a tad bit disposable as well? Seems that way to me.

So yeah, Logan Square may be destined to be one of those bands you’re constantly confusing with some other, more well-known name, but so what? The music they make is enjoyable enough, and I’m willing to bet they put on a pretty rocking live show if this album is any indication. So what if they’re a bit disposable? Isn’t most music these days?

Logan Square: www.myspace.com/logansquare

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Music Reviews

So They Say

So They Say

Antidote For Irony

Fearless

Is it possible for an emo band to actually call their album Antidote For Irony? O RLY? Straightfaced, humorless songs digging deep into the cliched well of broken-hearts, empty beds and serious (or is it metaphorical) illnesses have only one thing they need desperately: irony. Devoid of the slightest bit of levity, the self-involved junior high drama of how very hard it is to either be — or just write songs for — upper middle class white kids isn’t thrilling to anyone outside of that demographic.

The group’s angular rhythm section and meaty riffs fare better than expected. The mixture of modern rock and pop-punk is radio ready and could seemingly blend in to any number of fist-pumping tour line ups. The shoegazer-lite of “Act Like You’re Listening, Till It’s Your Turn to Talk” breaks up the power chords with oscillations and electronic whirls, propelling the group momentarily toward airy pastures. Still you could opt for a more enjoyable, more complete packages with Gatsby’s American Dream or the stellar Minus the Bear, a band with so much irony they’re the antidote for So They Say.

Fearless Records: www.fearlessrecords.com

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Music Reviews

Shonen Knife

Shonen Knife

Burning Farm/Yama-no Attchan/Pretty Little Baka Guy/712 [Reissues]

Oglio

It’s nearly impossible to believe that Japan’s biggest musical export, Shonen Knife, is still going strong after twenty years. They’ve seen new wave at its apex, on its deathbed and at its resurrection; they’ve watched punk’s transformation from gutter to mall. They’ve done this soldiering on below the radar the whole way.

Shonen Knife was probably received on these shores as a joke, at best a future footnote in the annals of underground rock. Consciously revered or not, their longevity has made them of one of old guard in independent music. It’s fitting, then, that the band’s first four albums would finally qualify for an official U.S. release, completely remastered and boasting live bonus tracks to boot.

The band was on sturdy footing from the first note of their first album, 1983’s Burning Farm. As lo-fi and off-balance as they come, the disc harkened back to the late ’70s AM days of new punk rather than the over-produced hubris of new wave in the ’80s. The first track, “Miracles,” cuts straight to the group’s best quality: its eccentricities. The song features a choral bridge of “meows,” though the lyrics don’t contain the slightest allusion to cats. It’s genius. Later, the band lifts the “na na” vocal melody from “Devil With a Blue Dress On” and inserts it into the title track. The Japanese and broken English lyrics are all undeniably fun, but it’s the instrumentation that’s most remarkable. Guitarist Nakao Yamano plays with her guitar’s range enough to keep the tone interesting from song to song. The group is also comfortable introducing Eastern aesthetics into the mix, as with the clattering percussion on the title song.

1984’s Yama-no Attchan saw the band moving backward in terms of sound, but excelling in song quality. This disc is much more inspired by the roots of rock & roll, the ’50s and the ’60s. It’s more easily digestible, much more kitsch and a lot more pop than their debut. Shonen Knife’s trademark muses are still in place: food, animals and the occasional combination of the two. The album has one of their best songs, “Flying Jelly Attack,” which boasts a sing-song verse that goes, “I’m gonna eat jelly [x8] beans/you’re gonna eat cherry [x8] drops.” Yama is also where the idiosyncratic songwriting of bassist Michie Nakatani started to come into its own. Her nervy, Talking Heads-esque arrangements on “Cannibal Papaya” and “Dali’s Sunflower” are great counterparts to Yamano’s straightforward leanings.

Two years later, on Pretty Little Baka Guy, the group reverted back to the power-pop Ramones formula, with expanded sound and songwriting. The disc was SK’s first concerted attempt at English lyrics; they managed to fill nearly half the album before easing back into the more comfortable Japanese. Musically, Baka Guy is their most accomplished and cohesive statement to date. Both Yamano and Nakatani were taking leads from one another, carving out a niche distinctly their own. Highlights like the loung-y, quasi-commercial jingle “I Wanna Eat Chocobars” and the woozy artic headache of “Ice Cream City” help make this the definitive Shonen Knife album.

712 rounds out the reissues. Originally released in 1988, the disc plays like the band’s first real attempt at crossing over to a U.S. audience. The result is incredibly overwhelming. The opening track alone features sampled riffs from ’60s British acts (The Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride” and The Who’s “Substitute”), hip-hop drums and rapping! Add to that songs called “Blue Oyster Cult” and “Redd Kross,” a cover of The Beatles’ “Rain” and John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “The Luck of the Irish” — inexplicably sung by Redd Kross frontman Jeff McDonald — and it feels like there was some third party piloting Shonen Knife’s ship at that point. It’s not a bad album by any means, but it lacks a good deal of the charm found on the band’s previous discs.

For longtime fans, there’s gold, in varying degrees, to be found on all four of these re-releases. Newbies would be wise to check out Baka Guy or Yama before delving into the bookends, but it’s (mostly) all quality rock music from a very unlikely source.

Oglio: www.oglio.com

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Music Reviews

Kitty Kat Dirt Nap

Kitty Kat Dirt Nap

I am a Robot. I am Talking Like a Robot. I am a Robot.

Wonkavision

With a label name like Wonkavision Records, I thought I’d end up with something sweeter and, I’ll admit it, more twee than the terribly derivative, post-Weezer emo nonsense of this disc. It’s hard to decide which is worse, the incessant barre-chord posturing or the painfully banal lyrics (“we’ve gone so far to turn back now,” “it feels alright to say goodnight,” “who could ask for anything more?” etc.) The worst song, by far, is the closer, “Theme (Song).” Here the band gives in to its latent screamo tendencies and combines them with quasi-rockabilly, with lead singer Adam Eckhoff spewing the line “1234, Kitty Kat Dirt Nap… YEAH!” ad nauseum. It’s been quite a while since I’ve heard paint-by-numbers indie rock done so blatantly in the wrong colors.

If there is any justice, woefully underutilized back-up vocalist/keyboardist Robyn Montella will be extracted from the band and placed in a new wave outfit where her talent and sound can flourish instead of getting sublimated in the rawk. As KKDN’s sole redeeming aspect, the band probably has its claws in her pretty deep. Hopefully the Kitty Kat’s career is short-lived and Montella can move on to better things.

Wonkavision: www.wonkavisionmagazine.com

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Music Reviews

Bambix

Bambix

What’s in a Name

Daemon

Bambix is a female-led Dutch punk band who’ve thoroughly studied every page of the Bad Religion fakebook, right down to the number-string riffs and Greg Graffin’s idiosyncratic enunciation. It should be a winner, but after a couple rounds into What’s in a Name I’ve come up shrugging. I think the problem lays mostly on my end; I’ve simply outgrown this genre of music. I would’ve eaten this stuff up in high school though…

Singer/guitarist Willia van Houdt has a great rough-but-not-ragged voice for punk, with a snarl that feels far more London than Amsterdam. She sports a limitless array of hooks and riffs to throw together; it sounds a little same-y, but that’s the nature of today’s punk. The only somewhat adventurous track, “Loch Ness,” features a brief flourish of banjo, but this still follows in the wake of Flogging Molly, etc. It’s good, standard stuff that’s not for me, but the kids out there could be listening to much worse.

Daemon: www.daemonrecords.com

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Music Reviews

The Snake The Cross The Crown

The Snake The Cross The Crown

Mander Salis

Equal Vision

It would appear that Equal Vision is attempting to broaden its horizons with the recently signed The Snake The Cross The Crown, as these guys sound very little like anything ever released on that label. They make majestic sounding art rock, in the vein of Radiohead, Coldplay, Celebrity and Muse.

Mander Salis is stunning. These guys rock out at one instance, as exampled on the pounding “Gates of Dis,” and then shift gears and styles with little effort. “On The Threshold of Eternity” is an acoustic guitar based country-western tune that showcases vocalist Carl Marshall’s warm tone and incredible vocal range. It’s a genuine piece of country twang, in an age when many bands attempt to do the same only to end up sounding contrived. “The Sun Tells the Moon” sounds like it could have been an unused track from Radiohead’s Hail to the Theif sessions; Marshall’s vocals soar in both falsetto and baritone, making me get goose bumps with each building crescendo of distorted guitars and exploding drums. It’s the best Radiohead song never actually written by Radiohead.

“The Laughing Man” demonstrates the band’s appreciation for math-rock and pianos, culminating in a rather bizarre, swaying song. “Echolalia” combines the band’s love of all things distorted and muddy, powerful drums and catchy melodies. It is on this track that The Snake The Cross The Crown show us how truly talented they are. It builds in much the same way that Muse’s songs do, and it, like many others here, offers a podium upon which Marshall can show his amazing vocal skills!

I am a sucker for the majestic and grandiose, and The Snake The Cross The Crown are these things, and much more.

Equal Vision: www.equalvision.com

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Music Reviews

The Exit

The Exit

Home For An Island

Some Records

Why is it that every time a band plays a little bit of punk and a little bit of reggae, everyone feels compelled to compare them to The Clash? That’s like comparing a kid who’s just had his first guitar lesson to Hendrix. The Clash left a pretty big pair of shoes to fill, and few bands ever come close to slipping them on. When I see The Clash’s legacy of great music used as an adjective to describe a new band’s sound, it puts one strike against said band even before I give their music a listen. The condemning comparison is made on this band’s website and again in their press release.

Personal bias aside, I stick The Exit’s new release, Home For An Island, into the stereo and give them a chance. The first song, “Don’t Push,” starts slowly with soft guitar chords and a light voice that sounds so familiar. The groove is kind of dreamy, and the drums are tribal… That voice… “Who the hell does that sound like,” I think to myself? It’s a bit like Sting, but that’s not it…

Then it hits me. Adam Duritz, the singer for the mid-’90s alternative band Counting Crows. Suddenly this CD is reminding me of all of those one and two hit wonders from a decade ago: Toad the Wet Sprocket, Gin Blossoms, Goo Goo Dolls, Blues Traveler. Where are those bands today, and does anybody really care?

The Exit started out as a pop-punk band when they formed in 1999. Their first record, New Beat, had the generic Good Charlotte appeal that seems so popular among the kiddies these days. For their follow up, they have broadened their spectrum a bit, steering away from their attempt at punk and into the realm of dub. I applaud them for the effort, but most of the result ends up sounding like a rip-off of The Police. Still, it’s a step in the right direction.

And though Home For An Island is far from a fantastic record, it has its moments. “Back To The Rebels,” a song about living in an age when the wealthy 1% make all the decisions and pretty much sell the rest of the country out to turn a profit, reveals a maturity in the band’s sound that far exceeds the rest of the record. If they write more songs of substance like this, and continue to explore the sandy beaches of the dub sound, perhaps their next release will be something worth giving another listen to.

The Exit: www.theexitrocks.com