Review of Ascend/Descend’s ‘Murdock Street’ at Modern Vinyl

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Whereas every other d-beat record I’ve heard sounds like it was recorded inside a trash can, Ascend/Descend’s Murdock Street gains its power from the fact that this is hardcore recorded like high-end black metal: each aspect of the quartet stands out, shining brightly. The separation between everything on Murdock Street sounds streamlined, but by no means is that any kind of “not punk enough” slag on the Boston hardcore band. If anything, it makes everything that much more distinct.
Read the full review at Modern Vinyl. Published 8/24/16

Review of Moment’s “Thick & Unwieldy From All Our Layers” at Modern Vinyl

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Man, if I’d heard Moment when I was 19, I’d have been a fan for life. The manner in which Moment connects the disparate elements of East Coast punk rock from the late ‘90s and early ‘00s is amazing to say the least. It’s melodic, but rough-edged, and there’s this combination of catchy, hook-laden choruses with breakdowns which absolutely fascinate.
Read the entire review of Moment's Thick & Unwieldy From All Our Layers at Modern Vinyl. Published 6/5/16

Weak Teeth, “So You’ve Ruined Your Life” LP

cover - weak teeth so you've ruined your lifeA more appropriate record for holiday release, I can't possibly imagine. Weak Teeth's sophomore full-length, So You've Ruined Your Life (out not from Tor Johnson Records) continues the anger and frustration the group started with on their debut single, and refines and focuses it even further than they did on What A Plague You Are. The stark imagery of the cover gives a clue as to what you'll find on the 12 inches of vinyl within the jacket. Weak Teeth rage against world destroyed by political infighting, but what really seems to come through is the yearning for something with meaning. "I'm Better Than OKay" sums it up best, with "a constant burden that you can't know or understand" being the throughline of So You've Ruined Your Life. The rage and frustration which comes through in everything -- the agonized vocals, the tense rhythms, and terse guitars -- actually find their greatest release in an instrumental, "Providence Music Scene Soccer Camp Trophy," which begins with FDR's Flag Day fireside chat, and then launches into a minor epic of stop-start blasts paired with wide-open stretches of grandiosity. When it ends, you feel exhausted and refreshed, like you've just been through a boxing match in a sweat lodge. Maybe it's come too late to make your best-of list for 2014, but Weak Teeth's So You've Ruined Your Life might be the first great album for 2015. From the moment the album blasts alive with "If You Can't Beat 'Em, Kill Yourself," to the fading moments of "Nothing Is Cool," you realize that you might've waited over three years for this record, but it's been totally worth it. [embed]https://soundcloud.com/dog-knights-productions/weak-teeth-life-is-bullshit[/embed] Weak Teeth's So You've Ruined Your Life is available on silver vinyl from the the Tor Johnson webstore, on mixed green vinyl from Riotous Outburst Records, or on clear with black smoke vinyl from the FITA Records store in the UK.

Death to Tyrants, “Untitled EP” 7-inch

cover - death to tyrants untitledWriting about instrumental post-rock is really one of the hardest things to do, which is a goddamn shame, because Death to Tyrants' new untitled 7-inch EP for Tor Johnson Records is absolutely wonderful. Maybe we'll just talk about that. How does that sound? Death to Tyrants work the whole hardcore angle of the various "post" genres more than anything else, but it's the way in which the group takes it on that really keeps me putting this back on the turntable for another go-around. Each song has a groove around which the entire song revolves, and to which everything returns time and time again, working as the backbone and framework for the whole piece. The way Death to Tyrants will then take that groove and rock a breakdown in the middle of it, and then start cycling through that on top of the original piece, and building both to a larger climax? It's astonishingly complex, and I wish I knew more about the band that put this out. When you hear the way "So Far Above Sea Level" builds and builds, and then just absolutely drops out to quiet, slow drums and a simple guitar melody backed by the faintest hint of dirge, before quietly fading out, you'll have your breath taken away. But ... for as musically interesting and arresting as this is, the artwork looks like a Paint Shop Pro job, circa 1999. Basic font, slightly pixelated photo, and what looks like an attempt at replicating a hand-stamped look on the labels. It sounds amazing, but looks cheap. You can get it from Tor Johnson on either blue swirl or black vinyl.

Late Bloomer, “Things Change” LP

coverEver since Late Bloomer debuted "Use Your Words," I've been foaming at the mouth to hear all of Things Change, their sophomore LP on Tor Johnson, Lunchbox, and Self Aware Records. I tried to hold back until I had the LP in my hot little hands, but caved and listened to it streaming a few weeks back. This all goes to say that Things Change is an album which -- once you've had a taste of it -- you want to hear in its entirety, over and over again. "Use Your Words" was and is an excellent introduction, kicking off the album in a way that reminds me a lot of any number of bands I hear in the mid to late '90s, but more in terms of tone than specific sound. Late Bloomer is one of those acts like So Adult or Squarehead that mines the '90s for ideas, but does so wisely, discarding all the dross and waste, keeping only that which worked. It's essentially the mirror image of a band like Creed or Bush: rather than aping the bombast and pomposity, Late Bloomer takes the energy and verve of a Dinosaur Jr or Nirvana's indie / alt rock and mixes in the melodicism and emotional release of early emo like Sunny Day Real Estate. A perfect case in point is "Mirror," which is -- not coincidentally -- the album's highlight. It's this constant building up of layers: plucked bass lays a downbeat foundation, distorted guitar fuzz grows on top of it, and then things start to pick up momentum. The song builds a head of steam, with "I'm not who I think I see in the mirror" operating as a mantra as the song ebbs and flows. Each new build gets a little faster, a little stronger, and a little more until it absolutely explodes. The title track which follows takes the formula further, building upon "Mirror," as well as itself, and just being a loudly-proclaimed declaration of fealty. The entirety of the album is a relative surprise, given that it's at least partially released on Tor Johnson. It's really cool to see the label starting to branch out into music that -- while still heavy -- embraces melodicism. [embed]https://soundcloud.com/beartrappr/sets/late-bloomer-things-change[/embed] Late Bloomer's Things Change is out now, and available on gorgeous split red and blue vinyl. The album artwork by Michael Muller continues inside and on the back of the jacket, with individual icons representing each song. It's pretty damned wonderful, looks lovely, and you should fucking buy a copy, already.

Bloodpheasant, “Traum” LP

cover - bloodpheasant traumThe newest Tor Johnson Records release, Bloodpheasant's Traum, showed up a while back, and it took me nearly a week to get to listen to it. I'm usually prone to throwing whatever Paul's sent in the mail straight onto the turntable after I get in the house, but somehow, this languished on my coffee table for the better part of six days. The reason I say all of this is to emphasize how bummed I felt halfway through opening cut, "A Bird and Its Wings." I could've listened to this all last week, but no -- I had to do productive things instead of getting lost in this Rhode Island quartet's twangy, apocalyptic doom. That opening cut is an instrumental, and the sound's like a more aggressive Earth (I'm guessing the fact that Traum's cover resembles that of The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull isn't mere coincidence). The instrumental cuts work better than those with vocals. Something about the recording process' end result of a slightly lo-fi distortion works well with the the guitars' swimmy delay, but the vocals just come across as flat. "Farwell, Viking" just hurts. Now, "Wyola" is the exception that proves the rule. Bloodpheasant's guitars sound absolutely huge on this cut, and there's a storm-bringing, thunderous low end. The interplay between Shannon le Corre's soaring vocals and the gutteral roar of Chris Carrera is also excellent, with the theremin ending up as the creepy frosting on the cake at world's end. Bloodpheasant knows how to really make songs work. There's a definite element of surf, with those phased and washed guitars, and it suits the band's loose, groove-oriented approach to the genre. That almost jammy looseness can sometimes lead to aimlessness, however. It's especially evident on album closer, "Fell Short," which is a shame. When you've a record like Traum that's otherwise so forthright and strong, having it peter out at the end is a bit of a letdown.
Bloodpheasant's Traum is available now from Tor Johnson Records on yellow or black vinyl.

Alpha Owl, “3 Song EP” cassette

cover - alpha owlAlpha Owl's "Boscage" single is an amazing package. Hand-typed liner notes, letterpress artwork, and it's just amazing. Lots of work for a three-song EP, especially something that's limited to a production run of 100. The music took me a little more to get into. It's energetic stoner metal that acknowledges that Black Sabbath wrote "Paranoid," as well as "War Pigs," if that makes any sense. The EP isn't all plodding sludge -- it's actually upbeat and makes you want to do that thing where you play air guitar and wiggle your fingers. It involves lots of epic soloing, some insane riffage, and some pounding drums that make me wish this hadn't been mastered so high. Were there more of a low end, this could conceivably level a house. This might be the most fun release Tor Johnson has put out. It manages to rock like a hardcore band, but still evokes every evening spent smoking too much weed and raiding your parents' LPs for Hawkwind and Led Zeppelin records. Granted, the vocals are occasionally just a little out of reach of the singer's range, but it ends up lending the whole affair a sense of desperation that wouldn't otherwise be there. For a first release, it shows a lot of promise, and I can't wait to see where Alpha Owl heads next.

Tyler Daniel Bean, “Everything You Do Scares Me” 7-inch

cover - tyler daniel beanFor a release that never gets into screaming, pummeling drums, or crazy riffage, Tyler Daniel Bean's Everything You Do Scares Me 7-inch from Tor Johnson Records is super-intense. Y'know how "emo" was once shorthand for "emotional hardcore"? That's what this is -- it doesn't get you with volume, or in-your-face musical acrobatics. The intensity comes from the heft that that music carries. There's a weight here that conveys loss beyond just words. "Year of the Snake" rises at one point to seem like there's going to be a breakdown. From there, it gains some propulsive drums, but it fades out to a slow instrumental bridge that sounds the way it feels to shake with anxiety. "I Was Wrong" reminds me of Alkaline Trio's "I Lied My Face Off" in terms of swing and sound, as well as a similar admission of failure. Both songs are hitting me really hard right now, and it's difficult to put into words exactly how well the tone of Bean's music captures how it feels to be down low. "I know that it gets better every day/ But I don't feel better [...] I'll smile, I promise" might be the lyrics that best encapsulate faking one's way through a shitty week, putting on a brave face to save the ones around you from whatever you're currently going through -- unless, maybe, you count the cathartic "ya la la" guttural near-moans at the end. Grab this. Seriously. It's the most emotionally honest music I've heard in a while, and I can't explain how good it feels to listen to something like this when you've been stressed. Bean seems to know what's up about getting trapped inside your feelings. It's on black or root beer vinyl, in a hand silk-screened chipboard jacket. Label head Paul did an extraodinary job putting these together. They look way too nice to be stuck on a shelf somewhere, so make sure you take it out to play as often as you possibly can, so that people can look at it.

Best Practices, “Sore Subjects” 7-inch

cover - best practices sore subjectsThe more I listen to them, the more I think Best Practices are a hardcore band playing garage rock. A lot of it has to do with the drumming, which has that energetic backbeat, steady as a goddamn metronome. On Sore Subjects, said drumming (courtesy Paul Denichio, whose Tor Johnson Records teamed up with Willow Tree Records to put this EP out) has a looser feel than most hardcore drumming. It doesn't sound like Denichio is going to put his sticks through the skins. The picked notes during the middle bridge of "Home For Halloween" or at the intro for "Never 100%" just reinforce the garage elements. Honestly, it's not so much that they're a garage band, just that they seem like they'd be able to play with any band on Slovenly or In the Red without any problem. All in all, it's like this: for as screamy and angry as Byers and King's vocals get, their guitars belie that angry. This is music for driving in the summer after a bad day. They're singing "Raise a glass to trading whiskey for wine & toast all the kiss off you've collected" and it's blowing your hair back, and you've calmed way the hell down.
They're a hardcore punk band playing garage -- or, basically, a rock 'n' roll band. And a good one. Honestly, I listen to a lot of music for specific reasons, be it movie soundtracks to calm down and focus, hardcore to pump me up, or whatever. But with Best Practices, I listen to them because I like them. They're just good fucking music. You can get the EP in a limited edition of 30 on green marble from the Best Practices Bandcamp, or in standard black or brown marble from the Tor Johnson store.

What Does Prozac Look Like

cover-tor-johnson-10-yearTor Johnson Records What Does Prozac Look Like, is a label from which I've happened to get a couple releases for review over the past couple years. Over the course of that time, I've gone from being a curious outsider to an actual fan of what the label's putting out.

Their Ten Year Anniversary Omnibus compilation 7-inch was something for which I've been waiting for ages. While I got my download pretty much instantly after ordering the record, the actual physical vinyl took a while to get here. 20mg What Does Prozac Look Like, However, now it's out, and it's worth snagging. Firstly, the download is worth having for the massive number of bonus cuts (including an unreleased single from The Defeat), as well as the ability to throw the tunes on your portable music player of choice, What Does Prozac Look Like. That being said, the actual vinyl sounds so much better. Honestly, most of the time I buy vinyl because used records are cheaper, 150mg What Does Prozac Look Like, or it's worth paying an extra three bucks to have something tangible, rather than just a selection of files on my hard drive.

In this case, though ... basically, 250mg What Does Prozac Look Like, just take a listen to Saint Jude's cut, "The Great Finality." As a download, I was intrigued, but the mp3 didn't really grab my ears over the course of the nearly five minutes the song runs. What Does Prozac Look Like, It seemed a little plodding and humdrum. Upon getting the 7-inch in the mail, I of course had to throw it on the turntable immediately. It's what you do when the mail comes, What Does Prozac Look Like ebay, right. That cut will grab your ears and pummel them. The depths and nuances you hear on the 7-inch don't appear at all digitally. It might as well be two totally different songs, What Does Prozac Look Like.

It's only five bucks for this record in the Tor Johnson store. It comes with a hand-screened cover, 100mg What Does Prozac Look Like, cut from some bargain bin LP (in my case, ABBA!), as well as being wrapped in a screened Tor Johnson paper bag that doubles a pretty great poster. Five bucks is a steal. Hop on this (if nothing else, Now Denial's Misfits cover ought to tip this over the edge).

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