Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Twelve Hour Turn - The Victory of Flight

★★★★★ Tracks:

New Snake
Second Story
For Want of a Real Whole
A Mouth of Suitable Size
Little One

Anyone who grew up in Florida in the mid-to-late 90's familiar with its underground music scene knows there was a huge post-hardcore movement. Bands like Strikeforce Diablo, I Hate Myself, Omega Man, Poison the Well, (early) Hot Water Music are all examples but The Victory of Flight by Twelve Hour Turn best represents the sub-genre I really dig, screamo. Yeah yeah, laugh it up. It has a ridiculous name, and being directly associated with emo has allowed it to be completely overlooked. But that doesn’t mean it’s inconsequential. While there are plenty of clear paths from influential 90’s rockers like Radiohead and Pavement to current-day indie rock, there are also a lot of great bands who took notes by listening to Fugazi. Instead of following in the footprints of the birth of pop by creating verse-chorus-verse songs using almost exclusively major chords, Fugazi was interested in gathering ideas from reggae and jazz while incorporating the punk rock sound of groups like Wire, Joy Division or Gang of Four; sonic tones that, to this day, are still ripe for exploring. And in creating these distorted, diminished, discord-like guitars and abrasively shouted vocals, a slew of new bands followed ready to push those sounds further. Enter Twelve Hour Turn.

Twelve Hour Turn’s first record is certainly not for everyone, and has probably never been heard by most anyone, but completely fucking phenomenal nonetheless. I’d go through the record’s highlights but there’s no point. If you like this kind of thing, the raw emotion in both singer’s voices as they scream their way through a half hour’s worth of blistering 2-minute long post-punk tracks, every song included is a highlight. The unconventional instrumentation is spectacular as well; two guitars (always separated by L/R speakers) staccato picking off key-notes, made-up chords and diminished key progressions, bass patterns that border on avant-garde, and effortless transitions between 4/4 and ¾ (waltz) timings. I’m not sure this is applied music theory or just four guys fucking around until they hit something that clicks, but what is obvious is Twelve Hour Turn was throwing the rock’n’roll rulebook out the window: This is a garage band created by guys who were tired of the same old garage bands.

2010 was another great year for music, but most of the stuff you'd find populating critics' "best of" lists borrows from the same sounds and chord progressions that have been recycled for the past 60 years. Creative, good hard rock has all but vanished. Rooted in the already polarizing genre of punk rock, Twelve Hour Turn’s brand is a bit too harsh for most, but there's still plenty to explore and experiment with here. Music tends to be cyclical, so here's hoping 2011 brings us a few bands willing to break the mold and rock the fuck out again.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

U2 - The Joshua Tree

Release Date: March 9, 1987

★★★★★ Tracks:

With or Without You

I want to try and avoid as much negativity as possible, and it’s that very reason I wasn’t looking forward to this entry. I mean, I’m not necessarily reviewing artists and albums as much as I’m simply shooting the shit here. And after all, most anything I cover in my music library should be music I enjoy, or it wouldn’t be there in the first place. But anytime U2 comes up, I can’t help but think of one of the most overrated bands of all time. Every few years I end up grabbing a few songs or an album in an attempt to get in to them. Not much time passes before disappointment settles, and eventually U2 gets the boot. I'm turned off by the intentional grandiosity of everything. Am I the one being pretentious or does Bono sound pretentious as hell every time he sings or speaks? Why do I have to refer to their guitarist as “The Edge?” With such simple chord progressions, must every song be so damn lengthy? And why oh why is the vastly overrated “One” played at every wedding imaginable (even prompting Bono to exclaim, “Are you mad? It’s about splitting up!”). Even getting past all of this and focusing on the songs, well, they just aren’t very good. There’s nothing relatable to me in Bono’s lyrics. The music doesn’t excite me. My mom had Achtung Baby and played it quite a bit. I began to loathe it. One day in college, for not wanting to leave empty handed, I grabbed the newly released, All That You Can Leave Behind. Full disclosure, I actually love “Beautiful Day,” but the rest of the album was, at best, unsatisfactory. Since then all I remember of U2 is that Bono has become a knight and the band released some annoying single which begins with Bono incoherently exclaiming, “Uno, dos, tres, catorce!” (1, 2, 3, ...14!?)

The one U2 album I do keep in my library is The Joshua Tree. I rarely visit it as a whole, but the slow building “With or Without You” is a fantastic track. It’s one of the few U2 songs (that I’ve heard) that sounds intimate, and not something intended to pack an arena. After repeated listens this week I’ve realized I enjoy the first two tracks, “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” in all their grandiose glory as well. But the album quickly loses life after those three highlights. I know I am being a bit unfair considering my lack of familiarity with U2’s earlier work. Perhaps if I were to delve in to U2’s pre-Joshua Tree discography I would find some tunes I enjoy. Apparently they were a post-punk outfit at one point. However the U2 I know and hear fits the very definition of impersonal arena rock. They sound like they’re trying too hard; not only to tackle sociopolitical and spiritual issues within their music, but in keeping up with marketable modern pop music. Every single they write sounds like some space-aged glam rock track you wouldn’t hear in any lesser venue than Madison Square Garden. I can dig some of the bigger rock groups out there, but I prefer my brand of music to be a bit more personal. The only time I get that feeling from U2 is when I skip to track three on The Joshua Tree, and the slow, quiet build of “With or Without You” begins.