If All Else Fails (Cry and Cry Again)
Self-described on their Bandcamp page as “two fuck-up queer trans boys,” the Filthy Liars have quickly morphed their slow acoustic sorrows into an emo, punk-pop outfit equally as depressing, just with bigger explosions. Due to their apparent lack of regard for age and wisdom, the recently-formed threesome from parts Halifax and parts Vancouver are a surprise to be sure, demonstrating tight musical choreography, all the while sounding like they are headlining your local garage. Aptly titled If All Else Fails (Cry and Cry Again), the prose, which is generally harmonious in delivery, is an honest account of a personal world of identity theft and depression, and though their angst is often communicated with pleasant decorum (which is in contrast to the manic guitars and drums behind them), on a few occasions they inflict short but impressive amounts of abuse on their vocal chords. Filthy Liars do not overstay their welcome with any particular way of doing things, and tracks like “Tunnels,” which starts innocently with three acoustic strings played on two separate guitars, still end up sounding great even in their simplicity. Of course, exposing their most inner thoughts doesn’t hurt their cause, either: “I am afraid of not actually being a person.” It’s a sentiment that captures the spirit of their struggle; on the one hand they’re pissed at the world and ready to take up arms, and in other moments they are vulnerable, unsteady and unsure. The dialogue throughout the record is delivered rather maturely despite the frequent f-bombs and inexperience in the range of their voices.
In the end, If All Else Fails is an exercise in opposites with youth bursting through the cracks and corners of a soundscape that more seasoned bands would be happy to call their own.
Here we have a posthumous release from the short-lived and invariably polarizing Lesser Pissers, who you either love or hate—and for many, it’s the latter. Barely celebrating their one-year anniversary, the Pissers called it quits in true punk-rock style as lead singer Max Zaitlin was booted off stage at Pat’s Pub during last year’s Music Waste festival. I mean, wouldn’t you if your frontman was out of his head and decided to recite Bible verses in place of your band’s lyrics?
Caustic, rude, and decidedly unpredictable, this is a 15-minute maelstrom of post-punk fury compiled from some of Napkin’s first recordings. At a time before Crystal Dorval’s White Poppy project thrusted her into the North American underground circuit, she was recruited to play the drums on “Naughty Philanthropist,” “Watery Eyes,” and “Bad Momma,” where the barely coherent Zaitlin spews lines like “My mother was a badass Nazi / My mother was a bad girl” at you through muddied four-track production. With gang vocals clipping well into the red and spastic guitarwork that has nothing but contempt for staying in tune, the Pissers muster just enough self-deprecating charm to hold their chaotic mess together for seven short songs on Not Enough. Between a haphazard frontman and the cock-rock noodling on tunes like “Dale Lickman’s Giant Salamander Mix” or “Watery Eyes,” the raw sound of a punk 45 circa 1981 makes this EP a crate-digger’s wet dream.
Sadly, there are no plans for the web-only release to take physical form, and while some of these cuts can be downloaded, who knows how long they will be available given the Pissers’ volatile relationship. Grab a listen while you can at lesspiss.bandcamp.com
I can think of no two better bands to go in on a split seven-inch than pop-punk trio Sightlines and Maple Ridge’s psych-rock outfit Crystal Swells. The pairing have played more than enough shows together to know their respective sounds are complementary, and at the end of the day, what’s the point of sitting on a couple of sub-three-minute cutting-room tracks?
Side A of the peach-coloured (but regrettably not peach-flavoured) vinyl belongs to Sightlines and Eric Axen’s unique Jawbreaker-esque delivery. The frontman doesn’t lean on Kerouac quite as much as Blake Schwarzenbach, but the emphasis on intelligent lyrics is definitely present on opener “Foreknowledge.” Fun, scratchy guitar harmonics break up the smart verses on song one, while fuzz-soaked single-coils dominate the one-minute “Commiseration.” Sightlines still exude the same summer charm that dominated their last EP—it’s not hard at all to imagine soaking up these jams in some ratty venue in the DTES while the sun sets on a messy-hot August day.
The opening to side B, a cacophonic, inebriated noise smash, plainly marks the divide between Sightlines’ straightforward punk and Crystal Swells’ chaotic and dark psych tracks. Barely distinguishable vocals sit well behind a reverb tank being squarely beaten over the head with a hacksaw, and rough, raw instrumentation takes “Beach Bear” in a twisted, post-hurricane vacation direction. Track two, “The Bear Scare,” almost sounds like it was recorded in a bathroom stall—but the over-compressed guitar effects are most definitely intentional. It lends well to Crystal Swells’ off-kilter song structure, and as the only instrumental track on the record it stands out for its gratuitous under-production. It’s trash, but it’s beautiful and, most importantly, a helluva lot of fun.
Full Moon Sessions
(Hard And Heavy Records)
Recorded, mixed, and mastered under a series of full moons, Spell’s debut release, the aptly titled Full Moon Sessions, is an unapologetic collection of fun, traditional metal tracks. With little care for pretense or seriousness, this trio of rockers takes a page out of the late ‘70s/ early ‘80s stylings of such acts like Judas Priest, Scorpions, and Accept, among many others.
Starting off at full throttle is the driving song suite “Never Enough/Sisters of the Moon.” Complete with soaring leads, pounding double-kick work, and Cam Mesmer’s wailing falsetto, the track does exactly what the lead song should do on a metal album: grab the listener’s attention in the noisiest way possible. This track also doubles as a suitably amped-up cover of Fleetwood Mac’s smouldering, Stevie Nicks-penned “Sisters of the Moon,” morphing at the halfway point between the two songs thanks to Graham “Gnarly” McGee’s guitar work.
Throughout Full Moon Sessions, Spell treads some expected lyrical subject matter. Black magic, supernatural evil, living hard, dying young, and above all the power of rock and roll are all thematically present and accounted for. If you can get past some admittedly cheesy lines like “Heavy metal thunder shakes my body / And white lightning strikes my soul,” Spell’s debut is definitely enjoyable. A working man’s metal band, Spell has a special brand of black magic to share with the devoted.
The cover of Thee Ahs’ third album draws attention to their self-styled genre: black bubblegum pop. Perhaps this connotes the codified juxtaposition of heavy tones and light subject matter—or vice versa. But Thee Ahs possess a subtler, idiosyncratic dynamic. They are high-fidelity, both in song and subject matter. Acerbity doesn’t hide behind walls of feedback; the emotional narratives are franker. Songs shift between building tension and blissful progressions of melody, both buoyed by bouncy dynamics. It’s a sound true to the complex emotions Thee Ahs express: the play between free-spirited melodic sweetness, troubling reticence, and sheer invective.
Save one portion of harsh distortion on the track “Love Sleep,” Thee Ahs’ dynamic exists in progressive movements of melody and cheeky instrumental dynamics. Strong vocals figure into the forefront thanks to Sarah Lowenbot’s intonation and Davinah Shell’s harmonization. While maintaining their soft tone, they absolutely nail a tight rhythmic assonance with the instruments. Many of the album’s highest moments are stolen by the duo, when the vocal momentum supersedes the backing and transforms, beautifully aloft amidst a relative dearth of sound.
Equally strong is the instrumentation. While the melodic guitar lines are pleasing, the key features of these strings are their dissonant sense of play. Stop-start rhythm and counter-melodic chords take up large portions of songs, or chop up in the interstices. Mareesah Holmes’ drums rebut and build up in equal measure, sometimes in tandem with the dissonant chords, sometimes in focus with the vocal movement towards crescendo. Altogether the tone of the instruments possesses an infectious bounce—the catalyst for innervation both within the listener and the vocal movement.
This sense of play is evinced in the album’s immediately standout tracks. Corey’s Coathangers never settles down, moving from tangent to tangent, ending on a somber note but with a cheeky three-second bounce-back and reprise. “Does It Still Count” encompasses Thee Ahs’ foreboding tendencies, as well as their lyrical penchant for zeroing in on affective exclamations.
That this combination never feels incongruous evinces the strength of Shell’s songwriting. Thanks to the band’s excellent chemistry, the complex relationship between disparate emotions is relayed by the dynamic music. The emerging picture is quotidian yet dreamlike, sharp yet soft, if only because these things aren’t mutually exclusive within our experiences. Thee Ahs paint a wonderful neighbourhood world, where scraped knees flare out in a sharp contrast of crimson.
Triumph and Despair
It’s hard to fully comprehend what you’re getting yourself into when tuning into the new WTCHDR album Triumph and Despair. Emerging out of the opening track “The Pilgrimage,” subtle sounds of rattling bones and dripping water quickly give way to the opening line “GET F*****,” which punches its way through the silence and accelerates slowly but assertively straight into the heart of the album.
WTCHDR is the lovechild of WRITE OFF, Memorial, Night Terrors and Burning Ghats, consisting of Chris Stiles (vocals), Cam Strudwick (guitar), Andrew Temple (drums), and Kevin Grindor (guitar). Triumph and Despair materialized over the last two years; it was recorded in September at Rain City Records and was mastered by Brad Boatright at Audiosiege in Portland, the man behind such heavyweights as Sleep and All Pigs Must Die, as well as Burning Ghats.
It’s evident that there is an underlying urge for rapid change of rhythm, beat and genre as you are led through an inferno of hefty musical structures appearing as fast as they crumble, only to be held up through a deafening breakdown that abruptly ends to give way for a new set of trashy grindcore ideas indulged in powerviolence with a
taste of straight-up hardcore. On the third track “I Think I Can,” Andrew Drury from Baptists laid down some much-welcomed guest vocals, diversifying an already diverse record. With most songs clocking in at around one minute, except for “The Bonefinger,” “Like a Coward,” and the ending track, “Shatter Their Bones,” it leaves little breathing room for reflection yet contains an abundance of diverse potential.
In all honesty, what you experience within the first 40 seconds of the album gives you a lot to think about. You realize that there is a plethora of ideas that want out and there is no doubt that this is the place for the members to feel truly unconstrained and able to let loose. WTCHDR, as a side project, was meant for this very thing, a place for wild ideas and perfect mosh soundtracks.
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