By 1985, Black Flag had evolved from a pioneering hardcore punk band to a punk influenced quasi-metal band. Greg Ginn grew disenchanted with the confines of punk rock in and of itself and he took the band in a totally different direction. Rather than focusing on the style of music that got them a devoted following, Ginn decided to have the band focus on slower, more melodic music. If nothing else, it showed the band to be much more talented musically then most bands of their era. Talent however, only gets you so far in music. You need to be able to create something that people would want to hear. The style shift alienated the band from much of their fan-base, who was pretty much looking for another album like Damaged. If you look for a punk album, be prepared to be heavily disappointed. As a metal album, Loose Nut (SST Records, 1985) is a mixture of good and bad.
Black Flag’s later work showed the limitations that are so often found in punk rock, threw those aside and created some very influential music. Many “grunge” bands held up Black Flag’s later style as an influence. Even for those grunge bands that did not cite Black Flag as a basis for their music, the sound of albums like Loose Nut is similar to many grunge records, almost a foreshadowing of the popular music about a half-decade in advance.
On Loose Nut, guitarist Greg Ginn built upon his unique style found on Black Flag’s previous record, Slip it In. His metal riffs mixed in with some lingering hardcore punk sensibilities are a joy to listen to…for a few songs. After a while, it just starts to sound the same, the songs blend into one another way too much. There are some definite highlights of Ginn’s style on the album, with the high point being his solo during the song Bastard in Love and the entire composition Best One Yet.
While the rhythm section of bassist Kira Roessler and drummer Bill Stevenson is competent; neither really breaks any new ground on the album. They do however, provide the backbone for Ginn’s guitar work and while nothing sticks out in their performance, they do not bring down the record. Singer Henry Rollins is his typical self, bringing intensity to the album that became a trademark of his. He could make Gospel songs sound bad-ass. If he wasn’t present on this album, it would be easily forgettable. His emotional outbursts on the album take pretty average metal songs and turn them into something much more palatable. Not for everyone, Loose Nut is an album for those looking to hear everything from Black Flag, but it’s not exactly their finest hour.
Put simply, Matt Embree is among the most talented musicians in current alternative music. His work as guitarist/singer/songwriter for the RX Bandits has been groundbreaking. The band has created music that is innovative and complex while still maintaining a style that even non-musicians can appreciate. Love You Moon is the solo side-project of Embree where he plays acoustic guitar and sings. On Waxwane, he continues his musical journey with some impassioned songs that run the gamut lyrically from love to politics while showing off his ability with an acoustic guitar.
Embree has a very distinctive voice and his vocal range is pretty impressive. Due to this, the songs on Waxwane have more emotion then they would with another singer. The album was recorded live, which is one of Embree’s hallmarks, as the last three RX Bandits albums have also been recorded live. This is a vital aspect of the album, as it allows him to show that he can create a strong album without relying on studio effects. So many rock bands nowadays have such heavy effects on their records that it is a detriment to the sound rather than an enhancement. Embree shuns this in his albums and it should also be mentioned that he used analogue techniques during the recording of this album.
The music on Waxwane is relatively bare bones in that most of them are Embree, a guitar and the listener. RX Bandits band mate/drummer Chris Tsagakis makes some appearances on drums and Lauren Coleman adds some back-up vocals on some tracks. Honestly, if it was just Embree on these songs it would be enough for an enjoyable experience.
The first song on the album is Screams in a Vacuum, which sets the tone for the rest of the album. A five minute song with just Embree and his guitar contains some of his best lyrics on any album of his yet, including his work with RX Bandits and The Sound of Animals Fighting. The album does have many political statements within it, as the song The Last Words of Nicholas Berg shows. As much as the record does have a political slant at points, it’s never overbearing for those who disagree with his views. That’s worth mentioning since some bands that have politics in their music tend to be divisive.
Really, there isn’t that many negative moments on Waxwane. It’s not an all-time classic however it’s an album that wears its emotions on its sleeve. Embree released the record in 2008 on Sargent House/Mash Down Babylon Records, and if you can pick it up, then give it a shot. For someone who is looking for a laid-back album with deep lyrics and great guitar work then give Waxwane a shot.
When I think of Bad Religion, I think of hard, fast punk rock. Into the Unknown is the complete antithesis of that. After releasing the album How Could Hell Be Any Worse?, the band went in a totally different direction, focusing on progressive rock heavy on synthesizers. It was quite the departure from their previous work. The fans voiced their displeasure and the album’s musical direction was quickly abandoned by the band, which thankfully went back to their punk rock style on the Back to the Known EP.
The question is whether the album is any good. I wasn’t alive back in 1983 when the album was released on Epitaph Records, but if I heard it back then, I’d say it sucked. In 2010, it still sucks. I give the band lots of credit for trying something totally new and expanding the band’s musical ability. With that aside, Bad Religion wasn’t meant to create the style of music present on Into the Unknown. The album has been out of print since the early 1980s with no plans for a re-release by the band.
Most bands that completely change styles abruptly tend to have one main issue. That issue being that the band isn’t that adept at creating music in that genre. Not to say that the guys from Bad Religion are bad musicians, they are very talented…in the punk rock genre. I don’t hate the fact that they experimented, but the album sounds like a whole new band, not Bad Religion trying something new. That’s the main issue with this record, it sounds like a crappy version of Rush rather than Bad Religion.
Thankfully, this album is only eight tracks that do sound like a cohesive unit. It’s not like the tracks don’t seem to fit with one another. They actually do quite well and the album flows fine. That is probably where the positives end. Why the band decided to go in the prog-rock direction has never really been documented in interviews with the band, but as I said they smartened up quickly and went back to their original style. If I had to pick one track that stands up though many listens, it’s probably the third track Billy Gnosis. It’s a pretty good prog-rock song which proves that the album is not a total loss. Greg Graffin sounds out of place on the record, he seems almost unsure of his voice. A failed experiment to say the least, it costs a lot of money on Ebay on vinyl and isn’t even worth 10 bucks, except to hear one of the biggest let-downs in the history of punk music.
My first exposure to Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s solo work came about a few months ago as I was researching about John Frusicante and his collaborators. I was intrigued by the experimental style of music that Lopez records, and went to my local record store (Tunes in Hoboken, NJ) and picked up Se Dice Bisonte, No Bufalo. As a fan of his previous band At The Drive In, I knew the album was going to be an experience…what kind I did not know. Fortunately, the experience was nothing but positive and the music took me on a trip as I listened to it alone in the dark in my room with my eyes closed. There are some albums that are meant to be heard in their entirety, and this is one of them. This is due mostly to the fact that the songs flow into one another and to hear one random cut doesn’t make sense a lot of the time.
The album starts with a 26 second song entitled The Lukewarm, which is basically a bunch of ambient sounds that gets you ready for the album, and it leads into Luxury of Infancy, a solo guitar piece that is just fun to listen to. It is far too short though, at just over a minute, but combined with the opening set of sounds, is a pretty good start to the record. There are very few traditional songs, if you describe a song as a vocalist with a backing band. Those songs are a breath of fresh air while the instrumentals seem to blend into one another after a while. That was probably done intentionally as the album really is an experience from beginning to end.
Along for the ride with Rodriguez-Lopez, is Mars Volta band mate/singer Cedric Bixler Zavala, who provides the vocals/lyrics to the record. His unique voice brings so much to the music on Se Dice… just as his cadence has on many At The Drive In/Mars Volta albums. He is one of the top lyricists in rock today, and his presence on the album is vital. Also making an appearance is the aforementioned Frusicante who contributes guitars to the track If Gravity Lulls, I Can Hear The World Pant. It’s not the most accessible album to those who are looking for a typical rock record. It is however, a record that shows off Rodriguez-Lopez’s talent as a guitar player and producer.
In terms of negatives on the album, there really aren’t that many. As mentioned, it’s not the easiest album to listen to if you don’t like progressive rock or music with many mood shifts. That fact alone makes it hard to recommend to the average listener. You really have to have an open mind to enjoy this record. It’s a great listen for the most part, it just gets really “busy” at times and the ambient sounds mentioned may throw off people who don’t expect it. Still, Se Dice…is a very solid release that was recorded in 2005 but not released until 2007 on his own label Omar-Rodriguez Lopez Productions.
It’s hard to not lump Bayside in with pretty much every “emo” band out in the wilderness that is popular music. Based purely on their style of music it is pretty easy to do so. Also, being on Victory Records doesn’t help their cause, as this album was released in 2008 on the Victory label, one that is known for their pop-punk acts. At the same time, Bayside has something about them that makes their music less cookie-cutter then many of the other bands of their genre. Part of it has to do with the fact that they are a great live band. This album proves that. Fans of the band say “Bayside is a Cult”. In some ways that is true, as Bayside has an extremely dedicated group of fans. Another reason that they are more unique then their contemporaries is that they have released an acoustic album which didn’t totally suck. It shows that the band can actually create interesting music outside of the “emo” genre.
Don’t get me wrong, if you are looking for groundbreaking music that pushes the limit of what can be done musically, this isn’t the album for you. If you’re looking for an album that is well-played with some great guitar solos from guitarist Jack O’Shea, then give it a shot. The fact is that Bayside is not the most original band to ever walk the earth, but they create some layered music in the studio that actually translates to the stage. This is reason enough to give the album a decent grade.
As mentioned, O’Shea really plays well on this record. He doesn’t really do anything that over the top; however his solo on the song The Walking Wounded is pretty good. To compare him to Frusicante or Matt Embree may be pushing it, but for what it is, he definitely has talent and this album highlights it. Singer Anthony Raneri has a better voice then many of his “emo” peers, and his ability to use his voice to create a vibe of emotion makes the music have some staying power once the album is over.
There are some negatives on this album besides the ones mentioned above. The sound quality was good…almost too good. It seems like that there was some studio enhancement on the record, since the crowd seemed to be at the perfect volume for the entire album. The cheering never made a dent in the reception of the instruments. Something seems a bit fishy there. The lack of originality is a bit off-setting as well. Still, Live at the Bayside Social Club is a pretty good record for the most part.
Regarded by some as the definitive hardcore punk album, Bad Brains self-titled album does live up to its reputation. If a person is a fan of punk music, look in their collection. If this album isn’t there, do them a favor and buy it for them. It makes a great gift, as the tunes are timeless for fans of the genre. Released in 1982 on Reach Out International Records (ROIR), it quickly made waves in the hardcore punk world. Four black men playing a style of music that was heavily dominated by white bands was revolutionary. Also, the band was part of the Rastafarian movement which made their music even deeper. Not only a hardcore band, Bad Brains also played some adept reggae tunes on the album as well to show their mellow side. It was a bit of a shocking tempo change on the album, and it shows the band’s musical talent.
The main catalyst to the band’s overall sound and stage presence is lead singer H.R. Looking at tapes of the band live during the early 1980s, he was a wild mustang of enthusiasm on stage. His dancing and delivery of the lyrics are legendary. His rapid-fire delivery of lyrics is probably most evident on the song “Pay to Cum”. Even for a fan of early 80s punk rock music, I still have no idea what some of the words are, and I have heard this song probably 200 times (no joke). His scream heading into the song “Banned in D.C.” really gets you amped up for the lightening fast song that is probably my favorite track on the album. The speed of the music is still faster than most songs present in punk today, almost 30 years later.
As much as H.R. is important in the band’s style, it wouldn’t mean much if the band behind him was sub-par. The good news is that the actual musicianship outweighs the contributions from the singer. Dr. Know is probably one of the best guitar players to come out of the punk scene of the 1980s. He, along with Greg Ginn of Black Flag took the concept of punk rock guitarist and turned it into an art form. He is probably at his best during the reggae tunes however. He could play fast punk songs, but the ability to play slower songs is almost more impressive.
The rhythm section of Earl Hudson on drums and Darryl Jennifer on bass also ranks among the top in the punk genre. Like I said, the mixture of hardcore punk and mellow reggae shows that this band was about more than just playing as fast as possible. This album was among the first hardcore punk records to really define the genre. From the first cut to the last, Bad Brains self-titled album ranks as probably the best example of early 1980s hardcore punk/reggae music.
It’s funny how time can change your opinion of an album. When this album was released in 2004 (my Junior Year of High School), I didn’t stop listening to it for at least a few months. I guess that shows my lack of musical knowledge at the time. Then again, I was looking for an album I could blast out of my car speakers that was loud and had screaming. Let It Enfold You fit that bill, so I figure I got what I was looking for. In terms of the “screamo” genre (if you can call it a genre), the album is mediocre at best. If you’re looking for screaming, loud guitars, and pointless lyrics…then look no further.
Give credit where it’s due. Senses Fail came about in the early part of the previous decade and was able to ride the coat-tails of the screamo movement by creating an album that pandered to the “Hot Topic” crowd. Like I said, I once enjoyed this album…sadly. To say that the studio enhanced the band’s music/Buddy Nielsen’s vocals would be the understatement of the year. Go on Youtube and find a live cut of theirs from this era. I saw them live and let me tell you…these guys were among the worst live bands I have ever seen.
There was one good point from this album however. I don’t want to say all negative things; at least the song titles are inventive. The best cut on the album is Rum is for Drinking, not for Burning. It’s less than three minutes long and is a pretty good song to be honest. It is actually one of the top 10 screamo songs I have heard. Still, other than that one song, the album is very forgettable. You can tell the album was produced to the point where all the life that was present in the music was sucked out of it. When I was 18 years old, this album would get a solid B. Oh, how times have changed.