Andrew Earles

Some writing…

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Earles on August 15, 2009

Here are some reviews I’ve written over the past month or two. They can also be found published within Dusted Magazine’s ongoing Still Single feature, edited by Doug Mosurock (and on his blog of the same name). They are mirrored somewhere else, too, where an active comments section made for a new discovery: Writing less-than-flattering sentiments about Blank Dogs appears to be the music criticism equivilent of telling racist jokes at a Food Not Bombs benefit. Yet another “N-Bomb” in my chosen field.

Cex – Dannibal LP (Must Finish/Wildfire Wildfire)

Dannibal is an understated outing for Mr. Kidwell. Two Cex traits you won’t find here: retarded sexuality and ridiculous swagger. The middle-finger by way of uncleared samples has been conspicuously dialed-down as well, unless he’s built Dannibal with Boards of Canada samples as a primary source, and Kidwell has definitely made a conscious decision to put the vocals in the backseat. The focus seems to be on repetition, groove, and accessibility; not one second of Dannibal falls into the realm of “noise” and halfway through “Hotso” (side 1, track 2), a handful of notes are repeated for so long that I checked for a locked-groove. Don’t read me wrong, things get dense and layered throughout the album, but Dannibal is never a BUSY record. New listeners coming to Cex through misguided Girl Talk comparisons are simply scheduling a future disappointment. This is not a party record, nor is it track-after-track of pop songs made out of pieces of pop songs. It’s a mood, and by extension of achieving such, a success. (http://wildfirewildfire.com)
(Andrew Earles)

3 weeks ago

Grappling Hook – …And Those Who Would Keep Us Safe LP (Blastco)

 I hope these guys sent a promo copy of …And Those Who Would Keep Us Safe to Mike Patton or whoever it is that decides the future Ipecac release schedule. Theirs is a very specific, near-tribute approach to early/mid-90’s noise-rock love: clean singing/yelling, organ, pristine production, nonsensical chord-progressions, loads of drama. Sort of a throwback to yesterday’s artsy-aggro that WANTED to be on a major label, like Ethyl Meatplow, Therapy?, Gallon Drunk, Cop Shoot Cop, and especially Claw Hammer. Not exactly a bunch of bands beating the reissue offers off with a stick, but what’re you gonna do? As far as contemporary acts go, I’m drawing a bit of a blank. Racebannon with a lot less Racebannon? Just imagine a boardroom creation by the aforementioned Ipecac label, if they did that kind of thing. Side A is dubbed the “Crushing Side” while B is the “Carnage Side,” and I hear no discernable thematic difference between either half. I can tell you that Grappling Hook’s music is neither “crushing” nor violent, but rather a very loud post-avant-aggro, but not very distorted, nor very thick, nor very guitar-based post…hold on a sec, did I just write “post-avant-aggro”?  The organ makes the riffs on …And Those Who Would Keep Us Safe, not a guitar, so inherent heaviness is replaced by forced heaviness. This is going to blow some listeners away, really; there are tons of people out there that would give their firstborn to this band after hearing this album. I, however, take my aggro-revival with a side of subtlety, and this is one subtlety-allergic band. (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Blastco-Records/51940381745)
(Andrew Earles)

Illuminations – See Saw LP (All Hands Electric)

See Saw is the best album I’ve reviewed for Still Single, hands-down. There, that’s out of the way. (HA!-Ed.) NYC’s Illuminations choose to be a part of the CollageCore (I made that up…it’s mine!) movement, a trend guilty of visual rather than sonic homogeny. It’s true that, upon processing See Saw’s neon stencil cover art, I expended to hear yet another band wholly-unburdened with songwriting skills and flaunting a calculated lack of fidelity. I was wrong on both counts…embarrassingly so. As in, it was quite surprising to hear at least three AMAZING pop songs before the record was flipped. Stylistically, don’t expect to be knocked silly by invention. Expect countrified indie-pop and psych lite, recorded clean and efficiently. But the fucking hooks on this one … wow, it makes writing about a good hook ten times harder than it usually is. Wilco wasn’t the American Radiohead (figuratively) during the first half of its career because no song was positively devastating or uplifting, and Illuminations has assembled a whole album of what the world wants old Wilco to sound like. You think it’s easy to operate within the confines of Americana/roots-rock/alt-country without coming off as insufferable slummers or instantly-forgettable rural action figures? It isn’t, but Illuminations do this … perfectly. As a closing clarifier, See Saw dabbles in enough Elephant Six-isms and dressed-down indie rock to carry a wide appeal. If this band sticks to it, they will be huge. You know … in a good way. (http://www.allhandselectric.com)
(Andrew Earles)

3 weeks ago

Movie Star Junkies/Vermillion Sands – “I Love You More as Dead” b/w “Slow Dance” split 7” (Rijapov)

Some three or four decades ago, there walked a 100% to-the-core idiot, a man so asinine and irrational that he was homeless because of stupidity rather than financial woes. Additionally, this pathetic soul suffered from a very, very rare affliction that causes one to uncontrollably cram potting soil and cat litter into their ears. But this human mistake held sway over a handful of sycophantic disciples, and they would spread his ass-backwards, senseless murmurings across the land. One day, our über-moron stumbled upon the first Tom Waits album and immediately forced his minions to preach the greatness of this Waits character. “Everyone should soak up and revere the music and more importantly, the IDEA of Tom Waits!” Soon, the dunce (with an oddly ample vocabulary) and his followers had ticked an alarming number of music “fans” into believing they genuinely enjoyed the music of Tom Waits. On a related but unrelated note, this is also how tomatoes became part of a food group. Back in the ‘00s, a number of young, attention-starved musicians saw Tom Waits as the perfect escape from the far-too-demanding world of timeless songwriting and big hooks. On top of the Tom Waits blueprint, even more charlatan-bait was piled…some gypsy poppycock here and there, some gross misunderstandings in the name of torch songs, etc. Italian bands Movie Star Junkies, a band that should be ignored based on name alone, and Vermillion Sands (I like that name), both toil here in this aural ghetto, a micro-genre that is hopefully on its way out if there is any goodness at all in the world. (It should be said, though, that the bands are covering each other’s material here, and in both songwriting and execution, the Movie Star Junkies are clearly the corrupting influence here. –Ed.) Listening to this 7” brought me back to, well, a couple of months ago when I had to review that Man Man 7”. I did not want to visit this part of the past. 500 copies. (http://www.myspace.com/rijapovrecords)
(Andrew Earles)

13th Chime – The Singles 1981-1983 LP (Sacred Bones)

Sacred Bones, the first label we can thank for slowing underground pop/rock-based progress to a dead halt by participating in the first Blank Dogs onslaught, has now reissued a wildly-inoffensive early-80’s post-punk band that carbon-copied Entertainment! so blatantly that I wouldn’t be surprised if some barristers were put on retainer … if that’s indeed what Brits do with their lawyers. Is the 652nd revival of angular post-punk on the horizon? If Sacred Bones can get over ten people excited about a garage-rocker pulling a Jandek on a lo-fi version of what The Killers and Hot Hot Heat do, then perhaps they’re blazing a trail and have no idea that when Henry Rollins reissued the worthy Gang of Four albums fifteen or so years ago, he was selling great songs by a (very) temporarily-great band whose one-and-a-half album’s worth of amazing material actually broke ground in the late-70’s, and had yet to be trampled to the earth’s core by imitators. The mindset here could be the horribly-wrong good-by-default-of-being-really-obscure way of thinking, as the 13th Chime were unremarkable IN THEIR DAY, which today makes them about as exciting as a 1999 Pontiac Grand Am with high miles. (http://www.sacredbonesrecords.com)
(Andrew Earles)

Oblivians/Gories: Live at the Hi-Tone, Memphis, TN, June 20th, 2009

Both of these bands were at the forefront of a garage-rock revival that may have morphed into several different strains, but has yet to weaken over the past two decades. It just adapted to absorb power-pop (around 2000), post-punk in the form of darkwave (also around 2000, and again today), and parts of today’s CollageCore movement. The trash-centric among the garage demographic still wholeheartedly swallow the idea of the Gories as a band incapable of any wrong moves. They’re right, as long as “having an insanely overrated discography” and “sucking wildly on the evening of June 20th” are not seen as “wrong moves.” First off, when I walked into the sold-out, sauna-like Hi-Tone approximately two songs into the Gories set, I honestly thought that the sounds were coming from a CD being played through the house stereo. And Mick didn’t move. The man that fronts The Dirtbombs performed as if his feet were glued to the stage. Of course, the crowd treated it like an ex-con treats the first post-incarceration sirloin steak.

This was remedied by what followed, and my opinion has little to do with hometown bias. Along with Cheater Slicks, The Necessary Evils, and a few Japanese bands, the Oblivians kept 90’s garage rock from collapsing under tons of assembly-line retro-robot mediocrity as Estrus and Crypt lost the quality plot and spat out anything with an unfortunately-topless barfly on the cover. The Oblivians that reunited to play this inaugural one-two reunion punch (the weekend kicked off several weeks in the states and Europe) shows was the Oblivians from the mid-’90s. The phone stayed on the hook during the second half of the evening; an almost full circle journey bulldozing over the three members’ respective post-Oblivians endeavors. Let’s put it this way: When Quintron joined the band for the final third of the set, he WASN’T the focus of what was happening onstage. That’s a first.
(Andrew Earles)

1 month ago

Circle X – Dijon ‘79 10” EP (Fractal)

There are two types of first-gen post-punk: The bands/artists who continue (somehow) to influence new, young bands/artists and whose reissued vinyl can be ordered alongside a doves-in-flight/Commodore 64/neon-bars-shooting-out-of-an-elk’s-ass collage t-shirt, and the bands/artists that would clear an Urban Outfitters if played through the overhead system. Circle X is one of the latter. Always more of a passionately antagonistic OG noise outfit than quasi-Communist punks that want to sound like The Gap Band, Circle X formed in the no-longer-all-that-unlikely city of Louiseville, KY in 1978, after the city’s two punk rock bands dissolved. After relocating to France, Circle X played their first-ever live show, the recordings of which make up 100% of this 30th anniversary 10” EP. Equal parts anyone-can-do-it attitude, authentic yet antagonistic No-Wave experimentation, and disjointed messiness slicing in all directions, Dijon ‘79 makes Gang of Four sound like Joe Jackson with ease and even neutralizes  no-wave contemporaries DNA, Lydia, and The Contortions. Circle X deserves a big nod for lasting three decades on their own terms, through the death of a member and extreme (but invited) obscurity, though the curious should start with the studio works or at the very least, have an idea of what they’re getting into. (http://www.fractal-records.com)
(Andrew Earles)

1 month ago

Ghost Aquarium – “Light Cannot Escape” b/w “Spiritual Cramp” 7” (Ripping Records)

The sole release by Florida’s Ghost Aquarium made it to my PO Box by way of two closely-related things I haven’t done in ages: Purchased a record through an advertisement in MRR, and making that decision based on the description contained therein. In my late-teens, a single Dinosaur Jr namedrop was all it took to liberate cash from my tenuous finances, and I simply wanted to revisit this era of mail-order success and disappointment. Thankfully, “Light Cannot Escape” does what a song should do when a band anchors a sound with Eugene Mascis’ handiwork: It feels like early Dinosaur Jr. The way every part of the song – chorus, verse, intro, etc – serves as a stand-alone hook, and the quasi-metal chug of the guitars is, well, also a big hook … a band can either do this right or do it horribly wrong, and Ghost Aquarium do it so well that I would purchase their debut album (if one ever pops up), content unheard. I’ll even continue to overlook the “Ghost” part of their moniker. (http://www.myspace.com/rippingrecords)
(Andrew Earles)

1 month ago

Ghost Hospital – “D+” b/w “Religious Bias in Nursery Rhymes” 7” (Teen Ape)

Ghost Hospital 7"

Just like the cover photo of an infant wearing adult’s eyeglasses, the music on this 7” isn’t witty, clever, memorable, or cute. That would be less of an issue if Ghost Hospital didn’t believe they invented those four attributes. It would still be bad, but it wouldn’t be bad AND irritating. Underneath an equally tedious sub-genre that won’t be named or discussed in this review, there exists a micro-genre of early-to-mid 20-somethings that worship at the altar of faux-naiveté and wide-eyed kiddie quirkiness like late-period (read: “godawful”) Jonathan Richman, Daniel Johnston, the worst of the Irrelevant 6 bands (care to join the Music Tapes on an onstage trampoline? Anyone?), the altogether separate exploits of Of Montreal, or the Pacific Northwest (the part without a literal and figurative set of balls) never happened. Yes, navel-gazing has enjoyed yet another resurgence; this one fueled by AAO (the Arrogance of Assumed Originality). Ghost Hospital is acoustic-based pop set at half-spazz; grating nonsense that settles for public-domain melodies (like what a child would hum, or the random notes in a commercial jingle) over the task of writing REAL HOOKS. So, if your thing is obnoxious LA! LA! LA!’s on top of sub-par Violent Femmes/Dead Milkmen/Beat Happening shamble-crap courtesy of art-school manwafers that haven’t heard one or all of those bands and proudly say things like “I don’t own a TV,” and if the word “Ghost” in a band name or “Teen Ape” as a label name doesn’t send red flags crashing through the roof of your skull, suit-up in your stinky and wrinkled middle-management/horse-track-parking-lot-bum duds and please wreck that overpriced single-speed on the way to the record store. Now, if these guys didn’t believe that they invented witty, clever, memorable, or cute, I’m going to feel terrible. (http://www.teenaperecords.com)
(Andrew Earles)

1 month ago

One Response

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  1. lexdexter said, on August 20, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    I am woefully, woefully late to the Oblivians and Gories party, largely due to the rather severe decision made in 1995 that Estrus et. al. had gotten flabby and that, by extension, I should abandon listening to garage rock as such. Where do I start with these bands, and which of their tributaries must I absolutely investigate?

    (Of course, Trouser Press has some (probaby reliable) answers for me. But what the crap? I asked Scharpling for Badfinger recommendations yesterday, and that worked out well.)


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