Finally got to see Gehenna.

Last week I attended what has become an annual event in the Baltimore hardcore scene: Dom of Pulling Teeth's birthday show. The highlight for me this year was an actual performance by the elusive and infamous West Coast hardcore band Gehenna. Two years ago, they were also scheduled to perform, so I drove up for that show too. Gehenna cancelled, as was their wont at the time, but Starkweather did play, and absolutely blew me away, so I was glad I attended. This year, I figured Gehenna would cancel again, but I was happy enough about seeing Integrity and Ringworm, so I didn't feel too bad about the fact that once again, I'd go to a show that one of my all-time favorite bands was scheduled to play, and not actually get to see them.

But then, surprise surprise, Gehenna did show up. Dom posted on the internet two days before the show that he had picked them up from the airport, that they would definitely play. I was excited, but also nervous. Gehenna have a reputation for onstage antics that goes beyond just "being brutal" or whatever. As my friend Brandon has pointed out, they're almost an urban legend of a band. Everyone in the hardcore scene who has heard of them at all has heard the stories about singer Mike Cheese attacking audience members and laying waste to venues, even supposedly stabbing someone midset, a story of which I've heard so many different versions that at this point I don't believe any of them. Mike Cheese has fueled the fire where this sort of talk is concerned for many years himself, giving interviews in which he said intense, provocative things about both his philosophy and his behavior, things like this:
Q: When you hear about people in bands like Nirvana, Pennywise, etc. dying from overdoses, what’s your reaction?
A: I hope our band ends up like that. I couldn’t give a flyin’ fuck. Suicide is the only answer anyways. Just do it. Kill everybody.

The above is the only available Gehenna live footage from their prime days as a popular hardcore band. Nothing truly terrifying happens here, but as you can see, they were an exciting and violent live act. It may just have been performances like these combined with inflated rumors that created their mystique, or it may be that some of the stories really are true--I can't comment with any authority at all. But I can tell you that the potential for live terror and violence seems to be the main reason a lot of people want to see a Gehenna show these days. There was a show in California a few years ago that attained a level of infamy, where Gehenna showed up to the venue with only two members after the rest of the band had quit on them the night before. The two members set up a bass amp onstage for their set, played a hip hop song through it, and sat eating a burrito and smoking a blunt while the song played. That was their set. [Description paraphrased from this message board thread, which also includes Nate Newton of Converge telling a few entertaining Mike Cheese stories. Worth a read.]

While we were driving up to Baltimore, my friend Brandon mentioned the burrito set, and I started talking about how disappointed I'd be if that sort of thing happened when they played Baltimore. I've loved their music for over a decade, and I really wanted to see them play some of my favorite songs. A few years ago, I tried to capture some of my feelings about Gehenna, their music and their mystique in a piece of writing that I scribbled into a notebook and forgot about for a while. When I found the notebook in fall of 2008, I transcribed the piece exactly as I'd written it and posted it to tumblr. It was one of the first things I ever posted on that site, long before I started using it regularly. Here's some of what I wrote at the time:

Gehenna embodied the dark, anti-social worldview that was the eternal starting point for CrimethInc’s quest for romance. Even when they had just started and were still more like a straight edge moshcore band than anything else, their songs didn’t focus on anything so mundane as straight edge or beefs between ex-friends, like most bands of that stripe. Instead, they took the deep-ecology principles of hardline as a jumping-off point for condemnation of the entire human race, condemning all civilizational development as shit and hurling contempt at all responsible (including, presumably, themselves). By their third EP, their music had sped up to a frenetic tempo that made youth-crew seem slow but was still just this side of the inhuman speeds of power violence—-which allowed them to retain an essential human quality to their sound, even as Mike Cheese’s lyrics were moving further all the time into paranoid, Lovecraftian flights of fancy. Cheese’s guttural vocals were closer to the sounds one would expect to emanate from the throat of a monster than from anything human, and this fit well with his outsider’s perspective which seemed to regard itself as separate, in some respects below, and yet eternally more intelligent than the human masses that surrounded it. In songs like “Birth of Vengeance”, “Covet Thy Crown” and “Crush Opposition”, this outsider gave every indication of being prepared for and on the verge of launching an assault on civilization as a whole—-an assualt civilization seemingly hadn’t a prayer of withstanding.

This defiant stance of disdainful outsider fit perfectly with CrimethInc’s constant romanticization of struggle for food, shelter and, seemingly most importantly, freedom from mainstream society’s arbitrary restrictions. Truthfully, I couldn’t relate to Inside Front’s endless references to poverty and homelessness any more than I could relate to Gehenna’s hazy images of mythological zombie armies. And to be really truthful, it’s always seemed to me that a fair amount of gilding the lily must have gone into those stories in Inside Front—-after all, the thick newsprint magazine in which I read them came out on a regular basis for years. But there were emotions underlying all of this fiction, emotions that I understood and related to, that seemed true even if their circumstances did not: alienation and depression.

Before Gehenna played, I prepared myself. I took off my jacket and tied it around my waist. I took the lens cap off my camera and put it in my pocket. I didn't want to give myself anything that I could potentially lose once the band started playing. Of course, there was always the risk that my camera would get broken, but I was willing to take that chance in order to get pictures. There were hanging PA speakers on either side of the stage, about six feet off the floor, and I chose to stand underneath the ones on the left side of the stage. I didn't want to be out in the middle of the floor, because I figured that the violent dancing that was bound to occur would be happening out there. I didn't want any part of that. I also didn't want Mike Cheese to attack me. I figured I was minimizing my chances of that happening by standing off to the side. Yeah, I know, I'm a wimp. Fuck it, I've never pretended otherwise.

Most of the pictures I got didn't turn out too great. My camera is new to me--my dad gave it to me a few months ago--and I'd never used it to take pictures at a show before that night. Obviously I still have a lot to learn about its proper use. The picture above, the one that actually looks good, was taken from this brooklynvegan.com post. The rest of the pics on this page are my own efforts, for better or for worse.

When Gehenna hit the stage, Mike Cheese immediately started yelling about how he wasn't going to play until someone brought him some dope. He kept yelling about this between songs (and sometimes during songs) throughout the set. The band did go ahead and play, so it's tough to know how serious he was about this demand. I'll get more into that aspect later. Anyway, they opened with "83%," the first song on their first record, which is very heavy and moshy. Considering how far their sound has gotten from that style in the past decade or so, I was surprised to see them play this song, but it's one of my favorites by them, so it was a pleasant surprise. Mike Cheese jumped off stage and ran around in the front to get the crowd moving, but aside from a bunch of the sort of dudes who live to mosh at shows and don't care if they get hurt, most people just got out of the way. I think everyone was a little afraid of Mike Cheese. Within 30 seconds of the set's beginning, he'd shoved a well-known Baltimore area show videographer off the stage, and halfway through the first song, he did a really brutal stagedive onto about a dozen people standing immediately to my right. In fact, I saw him coming and took a step to the left, which is probably the only thing that kept me from being taken out as well.

Cheese was not the blur of constant motion that some stories about him had led me to expect, but that may speak more to his having gotten older and become a less frequent stage performer as it does to potential hyperbole in those stories. He'd have sudden outbursts, but most of the time, he stood still onstage and sang. That doesn't mean he was any less intense as a performer, though. The look in his eyes was terrifying. Despite the fact that he might have been standing still at any given moment, he always looked like he might be one second away from attacking you. As I write this it seems kind of ridiculous to say, but at the time, I was afraid to meet his eye. Whenever he'd look in my direction from the stage, I'd slide underneath the PA speakers so as to keep myself out of his line of sight. It felt like looking him in the eye might be interpreted as a challenge, and I didn't want to see how I'd fare in the event of such a thing.

A few songs into the set, during one of his rants about the fact that no one had brought him any dope, he charged off the stage into a backstage area that was on the other side of a curtain from where I was standing. I could hear commotion going on back there, but by the time I peeked around the curtain to see what was going on, it was impossible to see anything besides a scatter of equipment cases and a bunch of security people. Cheese ended up back onstage after a couple of minutes and the show continued--which makes it sound as if the band had stopped while he was offstage, which they didn't. They played an excellent set that lasted about 20 to 25 minutes and included quite a few songs that I knew--"Swarm/Deadshell," "Win By Attrition," "To Lay To Waste"--as well as some new material that I remember being faster than anything I'd heard them play before. Some mention has been made on Mike Cheese's blog recently of an upcoming 10 inch entitled "This World Is A Shithole," so perhaps these songs are material that will eventually materialize on that record. Or maybe it won't show up until years from now and will contain completely different songs; it's tough to tell with these guys.

Where the band was concerned, I'm pretty sure that the guitarist was the same guy who played guitar for them in the video I posted above of them playing "Swarm/Deadshell" back in the day. I can't be sure, though. I was expecting Mike Rhodes, longtime bassist, to still be in the band, but the bass player and drummer were both young longhaired guys who didn't seem like they'd been in the band very long, so hey, maybe not. I was particularly impressed with the drummer, who had a fast and ferocious style that stood out as being far better than the drumming on the most recent Gehenna records, Upon The Gravehill and the Lands Of Sodom EP. I hope they are able to keep this drummer around for a while, as he is definitely an upgrade.

The set ended with "First Blood," the opening track from their second LP, and my personal favorite of their releases, Negotium Perambulans In Tenebris. I had been headbanging and dancing around a little bit at some points during the set, but I freaked out a little bit during this song and sang along to most of the words at the top of my lungs. I was surprised I even remembered as many of them as I did. It's obviously been a long time since I was singing regularly in a hardcore band, because my throat was blown out completely after singing along to one two-minute song, and it's been sore off and on ever since. In fact, I may have given myself a cold. Pathetic, I know.

After the set, Brandon and I talked about our different perspectives on it. He'd stood in the back and watched from a safe distance. He made a comment that I thought had some truth to it, that Mike Cheese has built up such a reputation as an insane live performer that some of the stuff he does now is intended more to scare and impress people than to actually hurt them. From where Brandon was standing, he'd had a good vantage point to watch Cheese throw a chair and a mic stand into the crowd at different points (neither of which I'd been able to see from where I was standing). He said he was pretty sure Cheese wasn't actually aiming for anyone. Of course, we also talked about the fact that, for a bunch of guys from California, it'd probably be massively inconvenient to get arrested in Baltimore, and therefore maybe he'd toned things down a little bit. I couldn't help but bring up how intense and scary the guy had seemed onstage, though, and the intimidating look in his eye. In the end, it's at least my opinion that it's a little of both--Cheese is probably kidding or playing things up at times, as with the constant between-song screams of "Where's the fucking dope?" which seemed at least somewhat tongue-in-cheek. For the most part, though, I really do think the dude is crazy and just doesn't give a fuck what happens. I love the music that he and his band produce, and it's a direct result of that mentality. To some extent, I even enjoyed being frightened and intimidated by his live performance. I don't think I could ever live the way he does, though.

["83%," 1/10/10, filmed by an audience member]

One thing I forgot to mention: I did actually meet Mike Cheese earlier that night. He was selling Gehenna's merchandise himself, and he had a big display of their "Die High" series of t-shirts (click the image for a much bigger version of the pic):

I bought the Ol' Dirty Bastard shirt, which features a GG Allin quote on the back: "Live fast. Die." I'm not a fan of GG's music, but I did think that was the best of the three quote possibilities, and ODB is definitely my favorite of the three guys pictured on the front (though I also like Belushi a lot). Mike Cheese was very calm and friendly when I talked to him, and struck me as a nice guy. I figure he's less like GG Allin than people sometimes imply, and more like that dude you know from around who is really cool and into a lot of the same awesome things you like, but parties way harder than you and will get you in trouble if you try to keep up with him. After I bought the shirt from him, he told me to "stay high," and I figured it'd be better to just not bring up the fact that I'm straight edge. He reminds me a lot of a guy I used to know, who moved out to the West Coast several years ago. He sang in a band called PCP Roadblock (you can get an idea of what they were about by watching this video). He was a really nice guy, and we got along really well, but when he was partying, I stayed the hell out of the way.

For more information about Gehenna, read these interviews, which are reprinted on their Myspace:

Vomitose interview
Noise Mag interview (in English and French)

Some Gehenna interviews out there are pretty worthless but these are both interesting and informative.

And of course, you can check out studio versions of their music at their Myspace page.



2009: The Year In Review (Part One).

OK, I'll admit it: I've been neglecting this blog for quite a while. There are a number of reasons for that, one being the amount of writing I'm doing on Tumblr, where I have both a personal page and themed blog called Nuggets Of The Future (which had its genesis in a post a few months ago on this blog. You'll have to follow me there if you want to see frequently-updated posts, but no worries--I'm still going to post here.

This post, in particular, will kick off a series that will probably last all month, in which I write (relatively) short reviews of every new album I heard in the year 2009. I like the idea of doing this a lot better than the making of "top however-many albums" lists at the end of every year. Those lists get tough to make, because other than the first 5 or so, it can be tough to say which albums you really think do or don't deserve to be on them. I always have a lot more records I like in any given year than I have slots on a list to fill, and in hindsight, the choices of which albums to include at #13 or #17 always seems so arbitrary. In order to replace that arbitrary feeling with something much easier to understand and learn from, I present the following reviews (as well as the ones that will fill the 4 or 5 related posts to follow):

The Entrance Band - The Entrance Band

2006's Prayer Of Death, released under Guy Blakeslee's former solo-project moniker Entrance, was the Entrance Band's actual debut LP, and it was a glorious clusterfuck of chaotic boogie riffs and atonal violin sawing, the sort of thing that would appeal to fans of the first Velvet Underground LP (and without forcing them to sit through any Nico vocals). That album was obviously transitional in nature, though, so the fact that The Entrance Band is a much more organized, better produced, conventional blues-rock album isn't all that surprising. It is somewhat disappointing, though, and that disappointment is crystallized by a new, cleaned-up version of Prayer Of Death's opening track, "Grim Reaper Blues." Where the old version sounded like something broadcast from another planet, this new version sounds almost conventional, as if with only minor tweaks (none of which would need to affect the production), it could show up on classic rock radio tomorrow. And the thing is--it's still the most interesting song on the record. The problems with the production on that song are at least somewhat offset by the song's fascinating construction and awesomely bizarre riffing. Without that riffing, though, the remaining elements that made Prayer For Death so interesting to me are completely absent. I was excited when I found out there was a new Entrance Band album, because I was hoping to have another record's worth of Prayer For Death's awesomeness. As it is, though, this new record just doesn't hold up in comparison.

The Network - Bishop Kent Manning

Absolutely tortured freakout of a metalcore record here. Their first LP, This Is Your Pig's Portrait, was a bit disorganized. As I recently learned, this is probably due to their not having had a full-time vocalist on that record, and using a bunch of different friends and band members who normally played other instruments, so that no two tracks featured the same singer. They've got a steady lineup now, and instead of sticking with the chaos of their first album, this one goes in a more measured direction. What that translates into is lots of tortured screaming and slow-burn riffs, alternated with frantic headbanging riffs that manage to sound like insanity despite being, for the most part, perfectly comprehensible midtempo stuff. For those who felt that A Life Once Lost were never the same after The Fourth Plague: Flies, this record will hit the spot in a big way.

Slayer - World Painted Blood

Slayer hold a permanent position in my top 10 or 20 bands of all time, but in stating that, I must also admit that the apex of their career is long past. Their first five albums, and especially the three-album stretch between Reign In Blood and Seasons In The Abyss, set their legacy in stone, and any of the albums they've done since then have seemed almost anti-climactic. Even the best of them, 2001's God Hates Us All, wasn't quite on the level of those three classics. It was, however, a worthy sequel to Reign In Blood's all-killer-no-filler aesthetic, even with 90s era replacement drummer Paul Bostaph in the fold. Now, original skin-pounder Dave Lombardo has returned, which raises expectations through the roof. And yet, it is just at this point that Slayer trips up. World Painted Blood isn't terrible by any means, and I can even enjoy it when it's on, but the riffs here are subpar on the whole. It sounds like they're overthinking it, like what came naturally to them in 1986 now requires concentration to recreate. But as Neil Young will tell you, "The more you think, the more you stink." That adage is proven on this record, as riffs designed to be direct sound dumbed down, a production intended to sound raw and immediate makes the record sound like an unfinished demo, and a string of uptempo tracks designed to come across as focused just get boring. It's as if Slayer knew they were getting old, and felt that they'd have to work extra hard to prove to everyone that it wasn't affecting them. But in working extra hard, they only made it obvious that they aren't what they once were. I don't think Slayer is capable of making a BAD album, but this is the closest they've come to mediocrity, and that's a sad thing to see.

Dananananaykroyd - Hey Everyone

I never would have expected to hear a band that combines insanely upbeat poppy emo of the post-Cap'n Jazz stripe with the spastic art-core of the Blood Brothers, and yet, here are Dananananaykroyd, coming out of Glasgow and blowing my mind with a potent genre cocktail that I can't stop listening (and dancing) to. There are six members of this band, with the standard two guitars/bass/drums rock band lineup augmented by both a full-time singer and a guy who switches between singing and playing drums. The dual-vocal songs, especially "Watch This!", which is both an introduction and a sort of manifesto for the album and band as a whole, feature interplay that avoids conventional structure in favor of excited simultaneous rants. Both singers babble and scream, tripping over each other's words and lines in a manner that heightens the excitement of the song. But at other times, when the band is in their dual-drum lineup, the increased focus that it provides allows them to tap into even more potent melodies. The unstoppable bounce of "Totally Bone" only increases in intensity due to the driving percussive clatter on which the whole song is based. Meanwhile, "Black Wax" is constructed around a delicate melody without much heaviness at all. Yet both singers sing on it, and there are definitely moments when both of them are amped and in full freakout mode. It seems like Dananananaykroyd are willing to try anything that even sort of fits in with their mission, and as a result they sometimes veer so wildly within a song that they can make it seem like two different ones. It all works, though, and that's the important thing. This record is a nonstop blast, and whenever it ends, I just want to start it over again. What higher praise can I offer than that?

Passion Pit - Manners

There's a point that comes in the evolution of any particular subgenre of the indie scene, where the bands being produced by that subgenre become nigh-indistinguishable from their mainstream counterparts. With indie-techno-pop, that point has been reached, and Passion Pit's Manners is, even more than anything previously produced by LCD Soundsystem, completely indistinguishable from the sort of stuff they play in discos and on top 40 stations. Which all sounds like a condemnation, if you proceed from the first principle that indie is always better. But who says it is? The indie mentality, as an opposition to major labels and their privileging of monetary earnings uber alles, is dead and buried. With no political ideals left to fight for, that makes indie nothing but a genre. And when an indie band produces an example of a mainstream genre that can compete not only within the indie subset of that genre but right up there with the mainstream versions, shouldn't we be celebrating that? Passion Pit's "The Reeling" is the best dance single I've heard since Lady Gaga's "Poker Face," and the rest of this album, once I finally gave it a chance, proved to be full of additional examples of pure techno-pop nirvana. From the little-kid group chants on "Little Secrets" to the falsetto "na-na's" on "To Kingdom Come" and the ringing guitars on "Make Light"--which point back to the group's indie heritage no matter how deeply buried in the mix they are--this record is crammed full of pop music delights, and everyone short of the most diehard rockists should be able to appreciate them.

Four Tomorrow - Four Tomorrow

Four Tomorrow are from Japan, and have absolutely no profile in my native United States. However, because I know gamer dudes and other people who follow Japanese pop music, I occasionally hear Japanese bands I'd never come across otherwise. Four Tomorrow was the one band that that process led me to this year, and like Sambomaster, whom I discovered a few years before in the same manner, I find in their music a kind of joyous exuberance that you very rarely come across in American bands. Algernon Cadwallader have a bit of it, Cap'n Jazz had it when they were around, but I'm hard pressed to come up with examples other than those. That exuberance comes out in Four Tomorrow's choruses, which generally involve multiple members of the band shouting frantically, and in their frantic performance of uptempo punk riffs that might sound considerably more sedate in the hands of some other band. The guitars are jangly rather than distorted, but the punk influence is nonetheless at the forefront; it's because sometimes, playing something sloppily but with heart is more perfect than nailing it with technical perfection. Four Tomorrow's songs are ramshackle in construction, and played so quickly that you get the impression of all the members jumping around and falling all over themselves in the studio, just like they do in live situations. But their intrinsic jubilance, their incredible excitement at the very fact that they're a band that's playing songs, is impossible to escape. For that reason, Four Tomorrow's debut album is an infectious thrill.

Manic Street Preachers - Journal For Plague Lovers

At this point, it's hard to even talk about the Manic Street Preachers in terms of their sound. They're the sort of band that I use to explain other bands. I found out how inconvenient that could be earlier this year, though, when trying to explain The Cribs to a friend of mine by saying that they sounded somewhat like the Manics. He'd never heard the Manics, so the reference meant nothing to him. Fortunately, we could hit up Youtube and watch some Generation Terrorists/Holy Bible era MSP videos, and he immediately learned what I was talking about. When writing a review that attempts to encapsulate a band's sound WITHOUT sending the reader to Youtube, things get a bit harder. Part of what's weird about it is that all of the reference points I want to cite post-date MSP: mid-90s Britpop, post-Y2K Britpunk revival (think Libertines/Dirty Pretty Things), and oh, here's one that goes back farther--British glam-rock from the 70s, like T. Rex or Gary Glitter. Roll all these things up into a ball, and you've got the Manics, though that's only half the story, at least for their best material. Because their best material featured lyrics by rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards, who used his unique worldview and remarkable wit to give the Manics a verbal personality that was unmatched on the British alt-rock scene in the early 90s. Tragically, Richey disappeared in February 1995, never to be seen again. Fans, family members, and even the rest of the band have long held out hope that he'd reappear, but it hasn't happened yet, and hope's a hard thing to keep up after 14 years. Journal For Plague Lovers, then, is an attempt at closure, a trip through the notebooks Edwards left behind when he disappeared, in order to yield one last album featuring his lyrics. There are some gems here, too: "Only a god reserves the right to forgive those who revile him," from the title track; "crucifixion is the easy life," from "Doors Closing Slowly;" and "Jackie Collins Existential Question Time"'s excellent chorus, "Mommy, what's a sex pistol?" Surviving members James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire, and Sean Moore rise to the occasion musically as well, producing some of the band's best music of the past decade, if not longer. Still, though, it's kind of a sad thing to hear, no matter how great a record it is. Even more than the other records they've done since Richey Edwards' presumed death, it is this one that most makes one wish he was still alive, simply by pointing out how much he contributed when he was.

Sonic Youth - The Eternal

I guess the career renaissance that Sonic Youth experienced this decade is becoming something I'm used to. I say that because, unlike the three albums that preceded it, The Eternal did not shock me with its goodness, its solidity. When I had hated everything since Experimental, Jet Set, Trash and No Star, Murray Street was mindblowing--an actual good Sonic Youth record! I thought the time for those was over! Sonic Nurse and Rather Ripped also got my blood flowing--and more importantly, got me to head for the record store with cash in hand, something I didn't hardly do at all in 2009, the year of my personal economic upheaval. Even if I had bought The Eternal, though, I'm not sure I would have played it anywhere near as often as I played the last three Sonic Youth albums. For one, as I said back at the beginning of this paragraph, I've gone back to expecting good records out of Sonic Youth. For another, as solid as The Eternal is, as much as it can stand up on an overall quality level to any of the past three Sonic Youth albums, it has considerably less memorable moments. There aren't any songs on this album that get stuck in my head the way "Pattern Recognition" or "Karen Revisited" or "Or" did on those last three records. It's a very solid album, but I think that solidity comes out as uniformity rather than a collection of peak moments, which leaves me with quite a bit less to take away, even if I do enjoy this album every time I put it on (which doesn't happen all that often). I'm not sure if the fault is mine, for not listening enough, or Sonic Youth's, for making an album that blends into the background a bit too easily. Regardless, this album didn't stick with me the way a lot of their albums have over the years, and while I don't think it's bad, there's definitely something missing here, the absence of which keeps it from attaining the level that the best Sonic Youth stuff easily reaches. [P.S. - I had forgotten that I actually do get "Thunderclap for Bobby Pyn" stuck in my head on occasion, which doesn't change my overall feelings about the album but deserves to be noted.]

Japandroids - Post-Nothing

This is the sort of record that, when it gets hyped, reminds me of how different my listening patterns are from the indie-rock mainstream. When it started getting big, I listened to it, and found it to be a fun record for the most part, especially on the uptempo songs. In fact, starting with "The Boys Are Leaving Town" followed by "Young Hearts Spark Fire," but ending with "Crazy/Forever," "Sovereignty," and "I Quit Girls" may be the only really obvious wrong thing about this record that I can point to. It starts with a glut of energy and ends with a glut of slowed-down haze. The songs should have been sequenced better, and unlike Counting Crows' 2008 effort, Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings, there wasn't even a thematic reason not to. But whatever, getting away from sequencing and into the songs themselves, yeah, this is fuzzy bassless guitar-pop, and it's pretty well-done. However, for all the babble about noise and distortion among the indie rock faithful, it didn't seem all that noisy to me. Everything is relative, though, and this is an obvious case of my relativity being different from theirs. Bands like Wavves and No Age and these guys probably do seem like a wall of noise overload to kids who spend a lot of time listening to Animal Collective or Grizzly Bear. For dudes like me who spend a significant amount of time listening to Every Time I Die and Das Oath, Japandroids still seem pretty melodically oriented. So, that was a weird thing for me about listening to the dialogue around this record, but it doesn't mean it's any less good. One thing that I did feel made it a bit less good was a discovery I made when I saw these guys play on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon: their songs are, lyrically, insanely repetitive. They played "Wet Hair" on Fallon's show, and hearing the vocals without distortion for the first time, I realized that the song only has three lines, which are just repeated over and over and over again. I'd have to say that the vocal distortion on the album works in their favor, since it kept me from realizing that for several months. If I'd noticed that on first listen, I would probably have liked this record a lot less. And really, I don't love it; when I want to hear a distorted pop record, I generally have many more interesting specimens to turn to. But it's not bad, by any stretch.

Jemina Pearl - Break It Up

So right after the release of their second album, teenage Nashville punk band Be Your Own Pet fell apart. The only people left standing were singer/co-founder Jemina Pearl and drummer John Eatherly, who'd only been in the band for a short period of time. Frustrated but undaunted, the two of them began recording songs together, with Jemina singing and John playing all of the instruments. Eventually, they ended up with enough material to release an album, and Break It Up was the result. To a great extent, it sounds like the third Be Your Own Pet album; the majority of the songs are the same sort of catchy but snotty melodic hardcore/punk that made Be Your Own Pet so fun and memorable. However, there are additional sounds to be found here. "Ecstatic Appeal" is a disco-punk hybrid with a beat like Blondie's "Heart Of Glass" and wonderfully retro glittering synth noises augmenting the rhythm guitar riffs that propel the song. "Nashville Shores" is slower and poppier than most of the tracks on the album, and its chorus features triple-tracked harmonies from Jemina. Unfortunately, the 50s-ish ballad "I Hate People" is a less successful departure, and while one would expect a Jemina Pearl-Iggy Pop duet to be a smashing success, even the combination of the two of them can't overcome the schmaltzy monotony of the song's music. Thankfully, it's the only dud the album has to offer, and it's more than made up for by propulsive bubblegum-punk hits like "Heartbeats," "Band On The Run," and "So Sick," the latter of which closes the album with the sound of Jemina, John, and a studio full of friends energetically making vomit noises. This whole record sounds like it was a blast to make, and it's every bit as much fun to listen to. Jemina and John have recruited a band to play the songs live, and are now on tour. One hopes that regardless of what they call it, they'll keep making fun, energetic music like this.

End of Part One; More to come in a few days!