Propagating the Conspiracy..

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Fat Possum, 2011

So, 2011 is upon us. Well, I guess it technically has been for three months now. But this is the first record I've listened to that was actually released this year. Or that was released this year and has been worth listening to. Ooo, burn..
First impression of Yuck: horrible name. Although a name shouldn't influence the way I feel about a band, it does. I'm shallow like that. These guys were lucky to get even a fleeting nanosecond of my overly critical attention after glancing at that trainwreck of an album cover. "Judging from their name, these guys obviously don't make good decisions and I'm sure that applies to their music as well," I quipped to myself out loud. Alas, it was mostly worth my time. Mostly.
Yuck are from London and Yuck play indie/alternative rock that sounds like Superchunk and Dinosaur Jr. Yuck's songs are good when they're fuzzed out and upbeat, but Yuck's cleaner, slower songs are mostly boring. Mostly. Yuck, yuck, yuck.
It's good to hear music like this and this is not a bad record by any means. But if I want to listen to music like this, then I'll go listen to Superchunk, Dinosaur Jr. or Pavement.
It just occurred to me that Yuck are playing this kind of music because they're young and now everything from the 90's is vintage and retro. It's like when bands in the 90's played classic rock and looked like Jethro Tull. Yuck...


The Jezabels

The Jezabels
Dark Storm
101 Distribution, 2010

I may be slightly biased on this one. I really like Australia and most things from Australia. It's just a quirk of mine I guess. The Jezabels are, as you may have guessed, from Australia. Sydney to be exact. And if you're not Australian or weren't just at SXSW, chances are you've probably never heard of them. That's a shame.
To me, The Jezabels sound like The National with Marie Fredriksson of Roxette fronting. I know what you're thinking: "Impossible. Brilliance such as what you describe is unfathomable." Fathom it.
This band hits every one of my musical pressure points and cripples my cynicism like an Aussie Tony Jaa. Echoey, Coldplay-like guitars? Yup. Dark, sulking atmosphere? Believe it. Female vocals? Of course. Bedroom music? Absolutely. You honestly can't lose here.
The standout track hear is without a doubt "A Little Piece". Seriously, it would be worth paying the $4.45 it costs to download this entire EP from Amazon just to have this one song. The rest of the tracks are solid, but "A Little Piece" is on another level. And that level is like sweet ambrosia for my ears.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that any of these songs could easily play during the ending montage of an MTV reality show of your choice. But don't write them off because they're marketable to the mainstream. The Jezabels are way better than 95% of the dreck that's passed off as music here in the States.
If you have a hankerin' for music that's well-crafted, melodic, conducive to sexual encounters and largely non-offensive, then I give you The Jezabels.



Hydra Head, 2010

Sometimes certain albums just give me.. an uneasy feeling. I remember when I was young, it was In Utero and The Downward Spiral. More recently, it was Lustmord's [O T H E R]. Looking back now, being creeped out by In Utero is laughable, The Downward Spiral is questionable and the Lustmord record is completely understandable. It's horrifying.
When music can affect me the way all these records did, I know they're really good. Daughters is really good.
I think I know why this record in particular gives me such an uncomfortable feeling. It's because this is what it sounds like to lose your mind. Seriously. These guys from Rhode Island have successfully recorded insanity. The pounding double-bass drums, the frantic guitars. It's nuts. And the great thing is that this is their most accessible album. This is, like, mainstream Daughters. Check out Hell Songs or Canada Songs. They will ruin your life.
On Daughters, Alexis Marshall drops the screaming and actually sings, but he's got some kind of terrifying rockabilly/David Yow/Coney Island carnie voice going on. The songs are more structured than their previous work, but just as brutal.
All that having been said, this is a really enjoyable record. I've tried and I can't think of any one else out there that sound like these guys. Unfortunately their future is uncertain at best with the departure of Nicholas Sadler (Fang Island) and Samuel Walker. But hey, they left us with a truly disturbing and original record. Salud.



A Determinism of Morality
Translation Loss, 2010

These guys just continue to amaze me. Just when I thought they couldn't top The Galilean Satellites and Wake/Lift, SNAP! They drop some science like this on me. Now, both of the previously mentioned records are amazing, but this is just more straightforward. You can't mention Rosetta without drawing comparisons to Isis. But these guys are WAY more interesting than Isis. They're like one part Explosions in the Sky, one part Old Man Gloom (yes, I know, another Aaron Turner reference), and all f**king rock. Plus, it always amazed me that they're only a four-piece. Their sound is so dense and layered that it seems like it would be impossible to recreate live. But they do it, and if you've ever seen their live setup you could probably see how. They tour with their own Guitar Center.
This whole record is phenomenal, but I find myself drawn to "Release" and "Revolve". Bassist David Grossman's vocals on "Release" are ridiculous. You know a band is serious when their bass player can out-sing pretty much any other band's frontman. "Revolve" is just spacey and (I hesitate to say it) "cinematic" splendor. Yes. Splendor. Trust me.
Rosetta have always been ahead of the curve and this is less experimental than there other stuff. But that's not a bad thing at all. Post-Metal, Progressive-Metal, whatever you want to call it. These guys kill it.



Fantastic Planet
Slash / Warner Brothers, 1996

Ahhh. The 90's. Who would have thought I would look back on a decade, in which I labored through so many awkward adolescent years, with such fondness. I've said it before and will continue to do so. The best music, all genres included, was produced during the 90's. Failure's Fantastic Planet is no exception. This is an album that I recently rediscovered while sifting through my iTunes, and I have been listening to it quite a bit. Quite a bit meaning that it's pretty much melted itself into the CD player in my car (except for when I dislodge it to rock some Botch.) This was their third and final record and it is one of the most solid and consistent albums, beginning to end, that I have ever heard. I guess you could label these guys "alternative", but that's way too easy and a total cop out. Failure as a band was so superior to similar bands of that era that it's a crime they never made it big. It seemed like every band with a distortion pedal and greasy hair could get a record deal in the 90's, while truly talented bands like Failure, Hum and Walt Mink were lost in the shuffle and banished to obscurity, only to be revered by the odd hipster or music nerd.
Failure's heavy, laboring riffs and spacey lead lines are f**king heaven to these jaded ears. Failure and Andrews painstakingly produced this record themselves, fine tuning and tweaking every aspect and in doing so created a "space rock" masterpiece. This kind of music truly just doesn't exist anymore. The dark, ethereal feel of the album is most likely a result of Andrews' drug use at the time, with many songs serving as metaphors for heroin. God, that is so 90's.
It's a shame that most people today think that "Stuck on You" is a Paramore song. But don't judge these guys by the bands who covered them. With tracks like "Saturday Saviour", "Smoking Umbrellas", "Blank", "Stuck on You" and "The Nurse Who Loved Me" (which was covered by A Perfect Circle), this thing's a winner.
Maybe the 90's weren't as special as I like to think they were (although I highly doubt it). However, this record is special and anyone who appreciates music from that time should own it.


Whatever Brains

Whatever Brains
Rapper's Delight II 7"
Funny/Not Funny Records, 2010

So, admittedly, I'm fairly behind the curve on this one. As I searched for great music from all over the country, I slept on what was slowly festering in my own backyard. I'm ashamed to admit that for a long time I thought Whatever Brains was a f**king reggae band. I don't know why, it was just an assumption. Perhaps it had something to do with the peace frog logo. I don't know. I thought they were like a Toots and the Maytals cover band or something. Lame. Whoops. But what I do know now after doing myself the favor of actually giving these fellas a proper listen is that I haven't been as excited about a local band since Superchunk. I'll keep this short. Whatever Brains f**king slay. Their songs are more infectious than that guy with the cough at work in the cubicle next to yours. It's actually ridiculous. I know these guys are kind of billed as punk or whatever, but I honestly think they're more in the tradition of the indie guitar rock of the 90's but with the snotiness of 70's brit punk. Whether they like it or not, they write some extremely catchy s**t. Everyone in the Triangle area and beyond would be well advised to follow these guys. They're for real, and I have a new favorite local band. Cheers boys, we are here to do your bidding.

These Arms Are Snakes

These Arms Are Snakes
Tail Swallower and Dove
Suicide Squeeze, 2008

I'm going back a few years on this one. I always have a hard time deciding whether Tail Swallower or Oxeneers is my favorite TAAS record. I'm going to post Tail Swallower though because it's easily the most (gasp) accessible. This is way more straight forward than their other records as far as song structure and overall songwriting. For those who are not acquainted with TAAS, they were essentially a super group of Seattle post-hardcore juggernauts including former members of Botch, Kill Sadie and Minus the Bear. Since they disbanded in late 2009, members have continued to garner respect and remain more than merely relevant by going on to play in projects like Narrows and Russian Circles.
It's really hard to describe TAAS' spastic, aggressive, yet melodic sound to anyone who has never heard them. And they sound nothing like the respective bands from which they came from. Sometimes I think that TAAS sounds like what Nirvana would have sounded like if they had kept evolving towards the heavier more experimental songs off In Utero. TAAS is way more precise musically and utilize keyboards at just the right times to blow your f**king mind though. Tail Swallower is the place to start if you want to check these guys out. You will not be disappointed. Then check out Botch, Kill Sadie, Narrows, Nineironspitfire, Russian Circles...



Ecailles de Lune
Prophecy Productions, 2010

Shoegaze post-black metal. Yes, that is one of the many descriptions heaped on Alcest, the project of French musician Neige. Yeah, if pressed, I would definitely categorize his other work as black metal. But it's so much.. prettier. Just like Ecailles de Lune (Scales of the Moon). I would hesitate to call it shoegaze. To me, it's more Sunny Day Real Estate than Ride. But then the black metal kicks in and the machine gun snare and strained vocals take over, and yadda yadda yadda. Which is fine. Hey, I like black metal as much as the next guy. But Alcest is already stepping way outside the black metal box, so to speak, by making a record that sounds like Diary, so why try to throw in aspects of black metal that are so predictable? I like this record. It sounds like the soundtrack to a movie adaptation of a graphic novel, which might be slightly lame but the fact that it's all in French totally makes up for it. If you like catchy pop riffs, 10 minute songs and don't mind a little bit of evil, this is your s**t.


Helms Alee

Helms Alee
Night Terror
Hydra Head, 2008

What the f**k. Is it really 2011? Ridiculousness. It feels like this record just came out. I'm a huge Harkonen fan so naturally I picked up this record because of Ben Verellen. I'm also a huge fan of Hydra Head as a whole, so how could I go wrong? Fortunately, I did not go wrong. Night Terror is very good. Not quite Harkonen good, but good. Imagine Harkonen mixed with the Pixies being played at half speed. I had no idea at first that they were a three-piece. I also had no idea that the bassist was a female, which was a pleasant surprise because Dana James' vocals blend perfectly with the total assault of such songs as "New Roll". I also knew that the drumming was absolutely brutal, so imagine my surprise when I found out that, yes, the drummer too is a woman. For some reason this makes me like Helms Alee more than if they were all guys. Is that sexist? Whatever.