(Paper Bag Records)
Early success leads to expectation. Expectation leads to disappointment. Controller. Controller must regret having been so good so young.
When their seven-song record History came out in 2004, it was a blast of perfectly timed deathdisco, unleashed from Toronto right as kids were learning to dance again. It was strikingly vital; so fresh it seemed to have been recorded on the day you picked it up. Their sound was infectious and undeniable. No one could stand still. So with their first proper full-length, X-Amounts, the pressure is on. Expectant ears are waiting for this band to fail, and the answer as to whether or not they deliver depends entirely on what you want the music to do.
For the most part, Controller.Controller seems content to get your high-tops on the dance floor. The album is rooted on dancesteady rhythms and snake-like bass lines, slithering throughout the tracks, giving the melody space to flourish. The listener is persuaded to move by the band’s two guitarists that expertly cut hooks like Goldfinger’s laser inching its way towards Bond’s crotch.
But there is something deeper at work throughout X-Amounts. Perhaps the most noticeable difference between records is lead singer Nirmala Basnayake’s voice, which has a bolder, jazzier inflection here, making her sound like she’s actually passionate about what she’s saying. And she says a lot. controller.controller differ from other dance-rock acts in that their lyrics require some attention. This is established early, on third-track “Poison/Safe” as she
demands that “You should swallow every word I say/So you can spit them out when you cry.” If the bass drum is the pounding heart of the band, then Basnayake is undeniably the soul. But at the same time she thwarts the fluidity of the rhythms, singing in jolting phrases, like surreal scraps of conversation you overhear on the street. Her words are evil and ominous, rarely giving the listener the satisfaction of a rhyme. During “Straight in the Head” she asks “You
got my back/Or you got the knife/Who will say who’s going home tonight?” which epitomizes what her band is all about. Once you start to dance, you’re never quite sure if you’re going to come back alive.
But if you’re looking for memorable numbers, you’re not likely to find many. There aren’t any songs on X-Amounts that will have the same resonance as History’s title track or “Disco Blackout,” both of which are rewarding even beyond their patented danceability. X-Amounts can be viewed as either samey or consistent depending on how much slack you’re willing to give the band. It’s the kind of album you can just throw on at a party and never have to attend
to, but for the private listener, the structure grows tiring. The same beat guides about half of the album, and some bass lines, most noticeably in “Tigers Not Daughters” and “Poison/Safe” are all but completely interchangeable.
On “City of Daggers,” Basnayake asks “Haven’t you heard this one before?” and by that point you’re actually not quite sure. Though it’s a fun trip, as the record pulses its way to a close, even the most optimistic listener will feel that some part of their expectation is left unrealized. This stuff is fun for now, but it’s no longer as vital as it once seemed.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
I’m so sick of waiting around for the next Britrock flavor-of-the-month to burst out the next dance craze! The same jarring vocals and gyrating dance beats have been imitated, duplicated, and are getting dilapidated. But what’s worse is it’s mostly non-British bands doing the duplication! Don’t get me wrong, there will always be a place in my heart for that particular sound. But my ears are over-saturated. So you can imagine my surprise when I heard a band that sounded like where it was actually from! Enter Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. BRMC is a band who’s roots show as clear as the lyrics that pour out of your headphones. HOWL takes it back to the lowkey bygone era of American heavies like Johnny Cash, The Zombies, Velvet Underground,
and Willie Nelson (pre-Jessica Simpson collaboration). BRMC has delved into America’s musical heritage and allowed
themselves to be inspired by country, roots, gospel and blues, and amalgamated it into a fantastic contemporary rock album. The production is simple
and true and the songs flow like ear medicine from the living room speakers. The atmosphere is impeccable. The songwriting is honest. All-in-all, this is retro at its finest. Yet, it isn’t retro at all…This is American rock ‘n’ roll—Welcome back to the party.
Steal Yer Heart
Remember when you were 14 years old and thought that the quality of a band’s musical talent was directly correlated with how funny and nonsensical
their songs were? Well, it’s time to take a trip down memory lane, because the Briefs are back with a new record on BYO, and they sure as hell have brought
the humour with them. Steal Yer Heart manages to be both a hilarious and catchy punk/new wave/pop record. You know you’re in for a good time when
the leading track is “Genital General”, a song about being a master of, uh, servicing yourself. The hilarity continues with songs about getting hit on at the
bank, zombies, and the always amusing topic of cougars. The song “Forty and Above”, sung by the band’s newest member, Stevie Kicks (formerly of the local
group the New Town Animals), is an ode to women that “are into younger men”. The Briefs do not fail to let the rollicking good times (rock ‘n) roll.
Broken Social Scene
(Arts & Crafts)
I wanted this review to be an odyssey of music criticism. I wanted this review to be a journey through the heart and soul of Broken Social Scene—a band that has helped change the face of alternative Canadian music. I also wanted a pumpkin scone at the Starbucks that I was writing this in. But none of those desires materialized (including the scone). What I got instead was an album of unabridged energy and enthusiasm. There were some noticeable
differences in the progression from BSS’ debut to this new album. This is an alternative album that really takes its time to give you the goods. But where
are the hooks? Everyone that owns a copy of You Forgot it in People knows that at the right party, if you hum out the first few notes of KC Accidental, six other Converse-shod kids will fill in the rest of the instruments in a kind of hipster a capella. This catchy quality hangs in contrast with their new self-titled disc: I doubt anyone is going to be singing along to much of their new material. But that’s not to say that Broken Social Scene’s latest work is devoid of memorable melody. They just take the scenic route to its ear-melting hooks and exploding orchestral rockouts. This is a good album. So check it out.
The Deadly Snakes
(In the Red)
The Snakes’ previous release Ode to Joy, released during the tail-end of the garage revival fad, separated the band from the mass of boring rehash with their liberal use of organ, brass and chunky piano supporting the distinctive vocals of lead singer “Age of Danger” and Andre Ethier. In the Red release of the The Dirtbombs, Pussy Galore and the like may give cause to brand The Deadly Snakes “garage rock” but their venture deeper into a realm
that should be simply classified as “good music”. As with their previous releases, comparisons and the Snakes admittedly feed off of their Village Green-era
(when the Kinks learned to play their instruments). This latest offering abides by the informal rule that bands that have achieved some success must at some point introduce a string section into the mix. For a band whose charm comes by having the instrumentation highlight the dark and swaggering vocals, creating a more dense arrangement could have easily detracted from the sexiness of the whole. Thankfully, in part due to increased vocal counterpointing between Danger and Ethier, the lyrics still win out most of the time and the momentum is not slowed. In and of themselves the lyrics are great and tied together with a fatalistic thread. On “Sissy Blues” Danger belts out, “At 5 o’clock I just recede into the shadows, it’s a young man’s job and I know I’m nothing new,” highlighting the weariness that pervades most of the tracks. Don’t be fooled by the association with garage. These arrangements are consistent, interesting and catchy from first listen but don’t tire with repeated spins. Essentially, one of my favorites this year.
The cover art actually says a ton about this band. Front cover: a Grim Reaper engulfed in green flames, riding a black Pegasus, clasping a lightening bolt in front of a purple sky. Back cover: an eyeball with a skull in the middle, shooting lightening bolts out of a green sky. Thirteen songs. Galloping …soaring… lightening bolts, hellfire and death. Yup. Great stuff. I dig it: classic rock, hardcore, death metal, skateboarding, apocalyptic fantasy lyrics. No need to get too serious or deep here; just bang your head, enjoy the riffs. Right on dude, that solo was wicked. Do it again. Pass me a beer. Awesome.
Doomriders are from Boston and feature a member of Converge. The album was recorded at a studio by another member of Converge and released on a label owned by yet another member of Converge. Other members of Doomriders are formerly of Cast Iron Hike and Hallraker. It’s great to know that the pagans and the hardcore kids are learning to get along these days. It wasn’t always this way y’know. I hope more HC kids find the merit in metal and vice versa.
There’s actually more diversity on Black Thunder than I was expecting: tempo changes, singing, screaming, and growling—lots of growling—but not too much. There are too many influences to list. If Entombed listened to more Thin Lizzy and strong>Danzig than Slayer, you’d be close. Fans of High on Fire and Mastadon will like this. Songs like “The Long Walk”, “Ride or Die”, and “The Chase” follow similar themes traversing wastelands of fire and Ice. The lyrics are exactly what you’d expect them to be with lots of four horsemen imagery and serpents and werewolves. Others, like “Listen up” and “Fuck This Shit”, are straight-up profanity and riffs. The classic rock/metal/hardcore mix isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s very well done and the band finds its own groove. I couldn’t pick a favourite song; it’s strong all the way. Just ride the wave of doom from start to finish.
“We call it Idlewild. Isn’t that a poetical name?’”
Any band that names itself after a “romantic spot” in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables is awesome, no matter what. Fortunately the Scottish band Idlewild lives up to the good name it borrows. Anne with an E would surely agree.
The band’s fourth album, Warnings/Promises, released last month across North America, maintains Idlewild’s pledge to deliver thoughtful words set to
electric guitar and skins-driven melodies. From the anthem-like “Love Steals Us from Loneliness” to the I-can’t-help-but-play-thison-repeat “Not Just Sometimes,” Roddy Woomble and his mates lavishly furnish the listener with a glut of delicious rock songs. But wedged between the heavier pieces are scintillating sing-along gems, like “El Capitan”, which subtly lulls the listener with its nostalgic piano-driven opener only to shake and charge you to
“Stand up and Stand out.”
The album drifts from the archetypal Idlewild framework , doing away with punk elements almost entirely (save for “I Want a Warning”) in favour of
something a little more down home. Hybrid country rock songs like “Blame it on Obvious Ways” and “Disconnected”, with their candid use of slide guitars and
heart-on-sleeve vocals offer perhaps glimpses of what’s to come for this band. Bring it on, I say.