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2013 A.D. (SO FAR, SO GOOD)

04/26/2013

Iceage-Youre-Nothing-608x608ICEAGEYOU’RE NOTHING

Iceage, beloved Danish teen-punks of the blogosphere, are back at it. After one hell of a debut year in 2011 (at least stateside), complete with the Pitchfork bump and loads of other hype, they have delivered the requisite sophomore album, and fuck me it’s a killer. That first record was confrontational and dark, and instead of teenage angst it boasted full-grown anger, the vocals teetering on the edge, the guitars strangled half to death. With this in mind, how fucking awesome is it that they named the second record You’re Nothing? Here’s a band that has somehow emerged from a Danish punk scene, been randomly selected to be the new Pitchfork indie-rock darlings, and was blowing rock journalist’s minds before their second U.S. concert was even in the books. They’re being treated like they’ve reinvented the wheel, but to me it seems like Iceage knows something everyone else doesn’t. The music they’re making is not without precedent and certainly owes a lot to many of their predecessors. It’s just that Iceage, unlike so many other rock bands, are willing to be uncompromising, to be violent, to be confrontational. They’re just kids, but instead of doing what everyone else is doing, they’re going to look you in the eye, punch you in the mouth, and sell knives at their merch table. And make a record with songs like “Ecstasy”, which feels like it might lose control and derail at any moment, or “Morals”, which boasts a grand piano and lines like “If I could leave my body then I would”, delivered without a sneer or even an ounce of hope. I heard an interview with Iggy Pop recently, and he called them “the only current punk band I can think of that sounds really dangerous.” Good enough for me, uncle Ig.

 12689PISSED JEANSHONEYS

Speaking of dangerous. I wonder if Iggy knows about these guys. My mother gave this album to me recently, and I gave it a cursory listen maybe once before forgetting about it entirely. One afternoon my external hard drive with all of my music on it suffered a mishap and my iTunes library was instantly wiped. A decision had to be made, and since I have no money I decided I was just going to have to start illegally downloading a whole shitload of new music. Fortunately, Mom’s copy of Honeys was still sitting in Dropbox. In less than a month this became my favorite album of the year so far. Holy shit. Opener “Bathroom Laughter” is just an all-out rager. It’s exciting. I just listened to it for the 25th time this week, at 8:50 in the morning, and I thought to myself “Goddamn. That’s how you start a punk album.” It’s fucking amazing. The album strikes a balance (I guess you could call it a balance) between uptempo rippers and crushing dirges, nearly all of them commentary on the mundane nature of an average life. One of my favorite moments is the part in “Cafeteria Food” when singer Matt Kosloff likens the feeling of finding out a co-worker has died to “winning the Super Bowl.” The whole song is basically about hating his office job and being completely detached from the ridiculous “normalcy” of everyone there. He sings in the voice of an average man filled with disdain for nearly everyone around him. Fucking awesome. The first song that caught me was “Health Plan”, probably the closest thing to a catchy song this band has ever done. It’s about mortality and the idea that it might be better to just die rather than to know that you are dying: “You wanna know my secret?/I stay away from doctors/yeah that’s how I stay fit/I stay away from doctors”. Kosloff’s self-awareness is remarkable. Throughout the record he continually acknowledges his role in so-called “average” life (he’s an insurance claims adjuster by day) while simultaneously questioning his own life. On “Romanticize Me” he muses on the fact that he’s a shitty lover and a terrible partner in general, and anyone he’s with is going to have to “take all my faults/and twist them in your head/til I look like a sweet and thoughtful man/romanticize me.” “Male Gaze” laments the treatment of females in rock bands, with a big nod to the fact that he himself is guilty of perpetuating this. All of this is framed by a constant musical assault. This band sounds ugly and it’s absolutely perfect. If they got any more out of control it would be unlistenable, but if they dialed it back at all they’d be neutered. Pissed Jeans knows what they are doing, and it’s certainly working for me.

c1896504297e0a95d1bb290ebffe68b3 NAILSABANDON ALL LIFE

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Abandon All Life, the gnarliest and loudest album I’ve heard this year. I don’t listen to this one if anyone else is around. When I first got it one of my roommates came home while I had it on and he had this to say: “I just don’t understand why you like this. With the whole punk thing, I get it, like, aggression, release, energy, all of that shit. But this is just a whole other level. I don’t understand.” He’s right, of course. I couldn’t figure out how to explain it to him. When attempting to write about a band like Nails, I’m sometimes tempted to say things like “Well, if you like metal and hardcore, you will probably like this, and if you don’t, you won’t.” That’s the easy way to describe it, and I think it’s certainly accurate, but certain hardcore albums deserve to be acknowledged as standouts. In some ways this music is the last frontier of guitar music; it’s divisive, it is not for the faint of heart, and it’s difficult to pretend to like it. This is far more aggressive and violent than your average metal band, and though I can’t understand the lyrics, I doubt he’s singing about how much he loves his girlfriend. I mean, the fucking album is called Abandon All Life. This is some dark shit, and Nails evokes that feeling expertly. Certain types of people will find this incredibly satisfying to listen to, and it takes less than 20 minutes for the album to utterly rip your face to shreds and abruptly come to an end. It’s a savage beating, but it’s incredibly cohesive and smart. The title track features a completely unexpected and hilarious breakdown as well, and it’s a surprising moment that gives the impression that Nails know exactly what they’re doing. They’re aware of how extreme they are, but they aren’t afraid to make you laugh for 15 seconds before getting back to the task at hand, which is destroying everything in sight. Abandon All Life fucking rules. That is all.

36b389e6 WAVVESAFRAID OF HEIGHTS

This is a weird album. I really love Wavves, mainly because they’re unapologetic stoners who are perfectly willing to make it known that they learned how to play guitar because they liked Blink-182. King of the Beach was, on the surface, a great pop-punk album, but it was actually sort of weird once you got into its back half, and Afraid of Heights takes that idea even further. This band can pull off a straightforward rock song extremely well, providing big guitars and catchy choruses (“Demon to Lean On”, “Afraid of Heights”), but this record is full of unexpected songs. “Cop” is apparently written from the perspective of a gay man whose partner has just killed a police officer, and it’s a jangly, sunshine-y song with acoustic guitars and background string arrangements. The impressive thing is that songs like this don’t really sound out of place. They’re trying a bunch of new things here and nearly all of it is working. Part of that is due to the fact that classic Wavves habits are clearly dying hard. Much of the lyrics deal with the haunting, nagging fear of being alone, of being bored and useless and misunderstood. What makes Wavves stand out from the crowd of other bands that do this is the fact that they can do it repeatedly without sounding whiny or immature, and they can back it up with solid arrangements. My current favorite song on the album is “Gimme a Knife”, which boasts a very catchy chorus that goes “I loved you Jesus/you raped the world/I feel defeated/guess I’ll go surf.” What the fuck is that? Nathan Williams continually delivers lines like this with a straight face and the assumption that you know what he’s talking about, and if you don’t, well, you might as well just go fuck yourself. I like that.

Push-The-Sky-Away-PACKSHOT3-768x768 NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDSPUSH THE SKY AWAY

There isn’t much left that hasn’t been said about Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Push the Sky Away is their fifteenth studio album. What’s incredible is that these guys have the energy to do it again, and the dexterity to do it the way they have. 1997’s The Boatman’s Call was a mellow record, but not like this one: you won’t find a song like “People Ain’t No Good” on here. And it’s certainly a stark contrast to 2008’s Dig, Lazarus, Dig! It’s interesting to hear Cave hit some tender notes, as one of my earliest experiences with his voice was listening to him hiss out lines about anal rape and murder on Murder Ballads, an album recommended to me by my father, an album that could give your average adult life-altering nightmares. Instead, Push the Sky Away is filled with beautifully minimal instrumentation, arrangements that perfectly frame Cave’s lyrics, which are at times stunningly poetic. “Wide Lovely Eyes” features a tense metronomic tick-tock and a breathy, florid ode to his wife. “Jubilee Street” has an incredible arrangement that swoons into some perfect strings and could be described as downright gorgeous, which is one of the last things I ever thought I’d say about a Bad Seeds record. There are bizarre curiosities everywhere, and somehow they are handled with a reverence and a dark subtlety that’s hard to describe, hence the genius of this band. Much of “Higgs Boson Blues” wouldn’t be out of place on an On The Beach-era Neil Young record, and Cave moans “Who cares what the future holds?” Who cares, indeed. For now I’m content to pick apart the bones of Push the Sky Away, and to explore all of its dark corners.

bcd83c1c FRIGHTENED RABBITPEDESTRIAN VERSE

I didn’t know what to expect with this one. Frightened Rabbit signed to Atlantic after their last record, 2010’s excellent The Winter of Mixed Drinks, an album that expanded on the jangled singalong heartbreak of its predecessor, adding soaring choruses and a more polished, fleshed-out form of self-deprecation and fragility. I worried this next record, being on a major label, would be too radio-ready and would end up being a polished chunk of shit. Jesus, was I wrong. There is certainly a higher production value at play here, but instead of feeling like a sloppily exuberant break-up record, what we have here is a serious examination of man’s faults and flaws, desires, and a few skipped heartbeats for good measure. This band has matured dramatically, and it’s insanely obvious. Much of this record is clever and methodical at the same time, a sort of calculated genius that can’t be forced. Scott Hutchison has always been incredible at wrangling amazing lyrics out of situations we’ve all been in (mainly break-ups and drinking our feelings), but on this record his metaphors hit home more effectively. “I have never wanted more to be your man, and build a house around you/I am just like all the rest of them/sorry, selfish, trying to improve.” Holy shit. They’ve always been a good band, but at times it seems like Pedestrian Verse is the sum of all of their good parts. “The Woodpile” is one of the catchiest songs ever, providing heart-swelling romance that’s enough to melt even the blackest, iciest of hearts (“I’m trapped in an abandoned building/come find me now/we’ll hide and we’ll speak in our secret tongues”). “State Hospital” packs a serious emotional punch (“her heart beats like a breeze block thrown down the stairs”), but it’s some of the songs on the back half that are more inventive and surprising than you’d think, and end up nearly stealing the record. “Nitrous Gas” is a serious exercise in darkness and melancholy, boasting lines such as “I’m dying to be unhappy again” and “If happiness won’t come to me, hand me the nitrous gas”. It doesn’t hurt that it sounds like he’s standing motionless in a completely dark room while he’s singing it. “The Oil Slick” has a swooping little guitar line and one of the funniest lyrics on the record: “Only an idiot would swim through the shit I write”, a brilliant nod to the first single from the last record and a welcome slice of self-awareness. This album has cemented a solid place in my heart this year, and it doesn’t hurt that Frightened Rabbit put on one hell of a live show.

That’s it so far. It’s worth mentioning that the album art for each of these is pretty fucking sweet, so be sure you take a second and take that shit in. I know there are more amazing albums to come this year, and I’m looking forward to adding to this list, obviously. Diarrhea Planet has a new record coming out next month, for starters, and it promises to be the fountain of youth in the form of a four-guitar shred-fest. I can’t fucking wait.

Love always,

Cade

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