Tuesday, October 7

Kings of Leon Like Writing Songs About Screwing

Artist: Kings of Leon
Album: Only By The Night

Comments: As an aspiring music dude, I do my best not to read anything about a given album until I've passed my own judgments on it. Sadly, due to my unemployment and my roommate's subscription to Spin, that kind of went out the window with Only By The Night, the latest from the Kings of Leon.

The big point of the article, which was a well done feature about the band, is that the Kings hope that this album will finally establish themselves in America. The dudes have long been popular in the UK, but have yet to make a splash in the red, white and blue. And while Only By The Night is a solid rock album , it would be a cheat to the American people if this is the album that grabs their attention, especially concidering how the band's back cateloge trumps this, their weakest record.

Night picks up where last year's excellent Because of The Times left off. The group is continuing their movement towards studio largeness and U2 inspired southern rock atmospheric anthems. Where as Times mixed these anthems with grittier tracks, this album is nothing but bigness, with almost none of the punch of earlier albums.

Considering this is an album full of anthems, a surprising number of them fall on their faces. The first two tracks are both forgettable duds of workmanlike rock music, while the majority of the album is "pleasant" at best. The album really begins with first single and most rocking song "Sex on Fire." What "Sex" lacks in rhythm and dance-readiness, it more than makes up for with its catchy chorus and infectious guitar work. "Use Somebody" "Revelry" and "Cold Desert" are all worth the price of admission. Each one is a grand effort full of echo-y guitars, the Kings signature quiet-calm rhythm section and engaging (if not always brilliant) vocals with "Cold Desert" taking the first prize for best anthem on the album.

The Kings have caught a lot of flack in the past for their subject matter, which is more or less entirely made up of songs about fucking. Considering one of there songs is about banging a 17 year old, I don't expect this album will dispel those concerns. While this kind of single mindedness usually turns me off, in the case of the Kings, the lyrics have always been secondary to the vocals, which are used more as an instrument of melody more than anything else.

So what do we have? We have an album of anthems about sex that occasionally float and occasionally fall on their faces. The biggest problem with Only By The Night is that, for all it's success, its just not as fun as past albums. Theres almost nothing to dance to, nothing to rock to, and for all their talk of coitus, I would sooner nap than screw to this album. I hope the Kings of Leon catch on in America, but I wish they could do it on a better album.

-Mr Dogg

6 out of 10

Key Tracks: Sex on Fire, Use Somebody, Cold Desert

Buy, Steal, Skip: Steal

Monday, October 6

Rise Against Rights Wretched Wrongs (Look, Guys! Alliteration!)

Artist: Rise Against
Album: Appeal to Reason

Lets get something straight right off the bat. I used to love Rise Against. Back in my young punk days, The Unraveling and Revolutions Per Minute were my bread and butter, both played so often that I burned through multiple copies of each (did you know you can break CDs by playing them too much? What a gyp, right?). These records were fast, brash, reminiscent of Bad Religion or 88 Fingers Louie on steroids, and were powerful mission statements that established the band as a group of dudes not to be fucked with (especially Revolutions, which is a personal and perennial favorite).

I even stuck around through the "Swing Life Away" years, brought on by the major label blunting of Siren Song Of The Counter Culture. Once the band released the despicable The Sufferer and The Witness, a further exercises in neutering a once raging band, I fully expected to never care about them again.

Appeal to Reason, their fifth studio album, doesn't make up for all their past transgressions and can't make me feel 16 again, but it is as good a record as the Chicago hardcore outfit has released in five years.

Rise Against's strongest tracks always occurred when the band could find quiet pop moments within their hardcore anthems. Sure, the songs were fast, loud, throaty and sometimes brutal, but they also occasionally had sharp hooks and catchy choruses that stood out just as clearly as the howling. The big problem with Siren Song and Sufferer is that they pushed to hard on the pop side of the band, not giving them a chance to stretch their legs and display their hardcore chops. Appeal to Reason doesn't make the same mistake, and the result is the best album of their major label run.

"Collapse (Post-Amerika)," besides possessing a Mr. Dogg worthy misspelling, opens the album with a gunshot. Sounding like the best song Bad Religion never wrote, the track rips with buzz saw fast guitars and the trademark vague politicking of lead dude Tim McIlrath. Not too pop heavy, the track plays like Revolutions era Rise Against. An anthem, call-to-arms that actually holds water.

Of course, this is a major label effort so the entire album can't be hardcore classic. However, unlike on past releases where the songs lacked any sort of fire or teeth, even the radio-ready cuts on Appeal could serve as a skull smashing mosh pit soundtrack. Especially spin-worthy are "The Dirt Whisperer" and "Savior," the latter of which is occasionally lyrically embarrassing, but consistently excellent regardless.

The whole thing isn't kittens and rainbows. Some tracks still have the flaccid weak major label feel. McIlrath's muse is still politics, but his words occasionally repetitious and border on self parody. And there is the profoundly stinky acoustic anti-war ballad "Hero of War," which makes "Swing Life Away" sound like an old classic. Leave the acoustic protest songs to The Nightwatchman, dudes.

With all its flaws, Appeal to Reason is still a solid record of pop-minded hardcore that I would recommends to anyone who likes screaming and raging against the machine, but still just wants a big hug at the end of the day. While the band hasn't hopped into the time machine, they've defiantly rejuvenated themselves and found some spirit. If they don't watch out, they might just come out of this mess on the other side smelling pretty as flowers.

Also, quick note to Tim McIlrath: Start screaming again, please?-Mr Dogg

Rating: 7 out of 10

Collapse (Post-Amerika), Savior, The Dirt Whisperer

Buy, Steal, Skip:
Eh......steal. But I'm not happy about it.

Wednesday, October 1

I Set My Friends on Fire: Worst Record of the Year!

This review appears in Slant Magazine.

Artist: I Set My Friends on Fire
Album: You Can't Spell Slaughter Without Laughter

Comments: As usual, all the musical problems of the world can be blamed on Soulja Boy.

A while ago, two kids recorded an "electro grindcore" (read: screamo with a drum machine) cover of Soulja Boy's hit "Crank That" and put it on their MySpace. Because of the spectacle of the whole thing and the foolishness of the MySpace generation, the song eventually reached up to 50,000 plays a day, drew the attention of Epitaph and landed the pair, who call themselves I Set My Friends on Fire, a record deal.

Months later, You Can't Spell Slaughter Without Laughter is high in the running for worst album of the year. I don't want to suggest that all grindcore and screamo records are terrible (like any other genre, there exists the good, the average and the bad), but this band is just plain bad. The music aims for brutality and melody, but misses the mark entirely on both counts. The programmed drums give the songs no bottom, and the shrill screams of lead singer Matt Mihana sound more like genre parody than actual singing. This is what Atreyu would sound like if one were to remove all of their musicianship, songwriting sensibility and vocal range.

Slaughter, of course, features their version of "Crank That" as well as an original grindcore rap song called "HXC 2-Step." All I can say is that any album on which "Crank That" is not the worst rap song is bound for failure.

The only—and I mean the only—redeeming quality about I Set My Friends on Fire is that they don't seem to be taking themselves very seriously, and one or two of their lame wordplays did make me smile. "WTFWJD" gets funnier the more I think about it.

But it'll take way more than the occasional chuckle to make Slaughter go down smoothly. This album is to be avoided like the plague. Would not buy again.

Rating: 1 out of 10

Key Tracks:

Buy, Steal, Skip:
Remember those "plauge" comments?