Metal’s Seen Better and Worse Days, No Breaking News There
It’s a dangerous place, post-grunge metal. So many bands have proven to be pathetic excuses for such in this oft-tired genre. Even without naming them I’m sure they come to mind: Korn, Nickelback, Linkin Park, Puddle of Mudd, Limp Bizkit, etc. Some of them may have had not-so-awful moments in the sun with a single that blasted across FM radio and fueled many a teenage male’s rage fantasies. But that’s the ultimate conflict, isn’t it? When you’re trying to sound hard, edgy, and ominous, if you score a radio hit you’re not so hard. Breaking Benjamin’s fourth album, Dear Agony, is a solid one, proving itself listenable and well-recorded if not monotonous and unadventurous.
The Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania quartet are a surprise success story in a cesspool of boring alt-metal. If any of these post-modern metal bands know what’s good for them, they’ll throw in a quieter track here and there, a memorable chorus, intelligible lyrics—generally speaking, some accessibility. That may be one thing Tool have always been a little short on, but there’s no doubt the L.A. prog-metal sound is an influence on singer and primary songwriter Ben Burnley. What’s most disturbing is that Burnley collaborated with Jasen Rauch of RED for almost one third of these songs. RED, for the uneducated, is a Christian rock band from Nashville. Rauch and Burnley wrote standout “I Will Not Bow,” “Hopeless,” “Lights Out,” and “Without You.” This doesn’t make a third of the album a Christian album, but you do start to wonder about Burnley and the band’s direction.
The impact of Dear Agony is a little front-loaded. The album opens with its two strongest tracks, “Fade Away” and “I Will Not Bow;” the latter of the two was licensed for the futuristic Bruce Willis thriller Surrogates. Chad Szeliga exhibits capable, muscled and steady drumming, essential for a power metal record. The guitars of Aaron Fink and bassist Mark James Klepaski (who left a successful streak with dark metal’s Lifer ten years ago) are the solid foundation atop which Burnley’s voice sits.
The thing about this band is that their instrumental compositions are far from virtuosic, but never sadly unimpressive. They’re just the vehicle for Burnley’s radio-friendly voices and verses. This is their third album produced by David Bendeth, who does them justice, but it will most likely be received as more of the same from Breaking Benjamin fans. And they’re out there: 2006’s Phobia sold 130k copies in its first week. It seems as though Breaking Benjamin have done their homework and they’re trying not to sound like their poppier peers, but they’re also not trying to sound like no one else ever has.
Blood Feathers Goodness Gracious (Philebrity) SOUNDS LIKE: Philly indie boys' Philebrity label debut is a foot-stompin', everyman's bar rock record; solid but not life changing FREE ASSOCIATION: Little bit blues, a hair rockabilly, maybe a bit jammy; diggin' the sax FOR FANS OF: Morphine, Ween, young Spoon
Editors In This Light And On This Evening (Kitchenware Records/Fader) SOUNDS LIKE: Post-punk Brits might've peaked with Back Room debut, but after some slumping have found a new sound FREE ASSOCIATION: They've taken a turn towards synths and saved themselves FOR FANS OF: Interpol, Ian Curtis, New Order, industrial England
Surfer Blood Astro Coast (Kanine Records) SOUNDS LIKE: Florida rock that ends up sounding a lot like California rock with more modern flair and a darker underbelly FREE ASSOCIATION: Like Real Estate and NJ, they're making FL seem like a place to be FOR FANS OF: Apostle of Hustle meets Weezer, heady Beach Boys
Cow Pals Eskimo Kisses (Self-released) SOUNDS LIKE: Jay Funk and Pete Hill are star-crossed Philly musical lovers who've finally found in each other a love for PBR and big girls FREE ASSOCIATION: A little tongue-in-cheek, a little seriously awesome; simple rock music FOR FANS OF: Pavement, Kinks/Lips/Dylan, a little extra
Will Kimbrough Wings (Daphne Records) SOUNDS LIKE: Alabama folk troubadour staple who finds time after session playing to make earnest and darn pretty solo records FREE ASSOCIATION: It's easy for dude folk artists to come off toolish - not this guy FOR FANS OF: Ryan Adams, Jeff Tweedy, Nasvhille
Joe Pug Messenger (Lightning Rod Records) SOUNDS LIKE: Pugliese gave up playwriting, headed back to Chi-town to write songs, build stuff, and bust his ass making this debut FREE ASSOCIATION: Gives audiences song samplers; just a man strummin' and singin' FOR FANS OF: Dylan, Steve Earle, Josh Ritter, M. Ward
Motion City Soundtrack My Dinosaur Life (Columbia) SOUNDS LIKE: Minnesota finally gives the world modern pop-punk that isn't disgusting; well-drummed, sang and guitared FREE ASSOCIATION: Like Blink 182 but better - pleasant major label pop punk is a shocker FOR FANS OF: Get Up Kids, Sunny Day Real Estate, Jawbox
V.V. Brown Travelling Like The Light (Capitol) SOUNDS LIKE: UK songwriter with Pussycat Dolls on her hands, has legit pipes and serious style with retro flavor FREE ASSOCIATION: Much more than just a pop monster, her brassy voice is pretty tough FOR FANS OF: Amy Winehouse, FeFe Dobson, Solange
Vampire Weekend Contra (XL Recordings) SOUNDS LIKE: The Upper West Side preps have done it again; a beautiful mess of pop, Africa, loops, strings and percussion FREE ASSOCIATION: If you hated them for their success before, it's only gonna get worse FOR FANS OF: The Very Best, Ra Ra Riot, The Police
Spoon Transference (Merge) SOUNDS LIKE: Spoon's seventh is a little weirder, longer, dirtier and funkier than Ga Ga Ga and that's a good thing FREE ASSOCIATION: Yeah, we've heard a bunch of these songs already, but they're awesome FOR FANS OF: Phoenix meets Interpol, The Kinks, Wire
Drink Up Buttercup Born And Thrown On A Hook (Yep Roc Records) SOUNDS LIKE: These PA boys might as well be from Liverpool, their brand of kitchen sink rock is circus-like and hippified FREE ASSOCIATION: Just when you think they're soft you get a rock punch in the nose FOR FANS OF: Sgt. Pepper's, Man Man/Dr. Dog, Beirut
Jack Rose Luck In The Valley (Thrill Jockey Records) SOUNDS LIKE: The late great PA 6 and 12-string/lap guitar talent's last is a soulful, bluesy romp that shows his VA roots FREE ASSOCIATION: Dr. Ragtime is right; it's like he's playin' next to Robert Johnson FOR FANS OF: Pelt, John Fahey, James Blackshaw
Galactic ya-ka-may (Anti) SOUNDS LIKE: New Orleans-spiced blend of jazz, funk, jam and R&b fueled by horns, organs, and, here apparently, guests FREE ASSOCIATION: Hip hop records have this many feature spots; this ain't no Ruckus FOR FANS OF: Meters, Maceo Parker, jammier Daptones
The Elevator Parade A Headphone Revolution (Audio 67) SOUNDS LIKE: Jangly and psychedelic poppy noise from Philly who throw in a pinch of rollicking, foot-stomping country FREE ASSOCIATION: '60s England and San Francisco go to the P.O.P.E. and get pissed/free FOR FANS OF: Hoots & Hellmouth, tambourines and long hair
Bells Bells Bells A Ghost Could Live Here (Self-released) SOUNDS LIKE: A creepy horror movie soundtracked by organs, drone, churny guitars and Amandah Romick's chirpy, haunting falsetto FREE ASSOCIATION: Wednesday Addams grows up and sings in a psych-folk band FOR FANS OF: Jefferson Airplane, King Crimson, Blonde Redhead
Arms Kids Aflame (Gigantic Music) SOUNDS LIKE: The Harlem Shakes' Todd Goldstein's solo is a complex indie rock record highlighting his voice and finger work FREE ASSOCIATION: Sometimes silly and slow, sometimes fun and fast, this one's a keeper FOR FANS OF: Walkmen, Pomegranates, The Shins
There’s a scene in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective when Ace headbangs his way through a nasty, aggressive metal show towards a guy named Woodstock to ask him about marine life transportation. The band is Cannibal Corpse. This was 1994 and hair was long and dirty. Death metal seemed avant garde. It was so shockingly violent and masculine. Sixteen years later we have commercial metal and the thrill is gone. Though we still have bands like Mastadon, Isis and Lamb of God to challenge the genre, Swedes Arch Enemy and their ilk are still making screamo sludge-metal that’s unintelligible, and riddled with tired dichotomies like good/evil, rebellion/obedience and democracy/tyranny. Boring. Oh, and the cool thing now is to get yourself a lady lead singer who can scream like a man. If we’re going to get some bruises and suffer in the mosh pit, it’s not going to be for a show like this.
Thurs., Jan. 21, 8pm. $20. With Exodus, Arsis + Mutiny Within. Theatre of Living Arts, 334 South Street. livenation.com
In case you hadn't seen it, I posted a Week's Worst a while back hating on The Starting Line. Here's the text:
"It’s hard to root against local boys who’ve “made it” ... unless it’s a band like the Starting Line. Does Tallahassee rejoice when Creed rolls into town? Does Atlanta freak out when Collective Soul fills up the Tabernacle or Philips Arena? Possibly. Philly has certainly shown enough love to these central PA boys by buying every single ticket of their two “reunion” holiday shows. After three brutal records of power-emo-punk-pop, the band decided to give the world a breather from their insufferable brand of whine. Sure, they’ve toured with bigger versions of their painful sound like New Found Glory and Taking Back Sunday. But a Warped Tour does not a band make. It’s hard to believe there’s still a market for this horseshit. If Dashboard Confessional is the patriarch of emo, the Starting Line are their obnoxious, angsty teenagers."
Harsh, I guess. I don't think they're very talented. Their records and video clips are a total snoozefest. Anyway, I am at liberty to write about a band however I wish. It's my job. Ken Vasoli, lead singer and bassist, got really upset. He wrote a letter that he sent to PW and to me. We printed it in the paper in the Letters section. It looked like this:
"Dear Philadelphia Weekly & Bill Chenevert,
I am Ken Vasoli, singer and bassist for The Starting Line. You know..the "horseshit" band with an "insufferable brand of whine." Thanks a million for printing that article filled with those classic low-blows. Good move too, you guys are giving Pitchfork a run for their money by cleverly cutting down bands like us, its clearly the hip elitist thing to do. Congratulations in advance for the increase in readership, as I'm sure will be the result of bashing a popular philadelphia band.
What exactly was the point if the article? Was it to prevent people from attending a show that's already sold out, or perhaps to convince thousands of Philadelphians that they have inferior taste in music? Regardless, I'm happy to report that the two shows were both a fantastic success. I could barely hear myself over crowds' singing. These shows gave us in the band an indescribable feeling of joy, one that I'm sure Mr. Chenevert will never experience in his pathetic excuse for a career. I imagine the closest he will come to such euphoria will be masturbating to a Deerhunter record while reading the single comment left for his review bashing Coheed and Cambria. I win.
Happy New Year."
Do you win, Ken? He also drummed up some passion from a very dedicated fan base by bringing it to the attention of AbsolutePunk.net (which is so un-punk). The "article" was the most searched and commented piece that week online. There are currently 93 comments on it. They're almost all violently threatening. Here are a few choice ones:
11. Anonymous said... on Jan 2, 2010 at 12:22AM “Wait this retard is actually allowed to write reviews for anything. I'm sorry ive never ready anything so terrible and bias in my life. Even bands i dont care for don't deserve to be reviewed by this idiot. I hope you read Kenny's response Bill i nearly shit myself reading it hahah. You should be fired immediately.”
12. Anonymous said... on Jan 2, 2010 at 12:36AM “Crabs that live in Philidelphian Hookers Vaginas > Bill Chenevert
26. Anonymous said... on Jan 2, 2010 at 12:54AM “This guy needs to be fired. Unless PW is a satirical website. If he would have made these claims and attempted to provide some sort of support, maybe we can have a discussion. However, he just takes un-merited stabs at The Starting Line and shares no reason why.
Absolutely out of control. PW, fire this guy. Readers, if they don't, do not return to this website."
34. Anonymous said... on Jan 2, 2010 at 01:01AM “Can we get that guy fired, please?! What the fuck was that!? If he could have justified his claims with some support, maybe it'd be fair to make such claims. But he fails to do that, and just takes un-merited shots at The Starting Line.
We should really push some pressure on PW to get rid of that guy.”
58. C. said... on Jan 2, 2010 at 01:29PM “Hey Chenevert,
Sell your computer. You call yourself a journalist? This "article" is a pathetic waste of time, and while I'm embarrassed to have even been tricked into reading it, the knowledge that you wrote must make you the laughing stock of the entire Philadelphia Weekly. People like you not only give journalists a bad name; people like you give the human race a bad name.
Do you cry yourself to sleep at night?
74. Anonymous said... on Jan 3, 2010 at 01:36AM “Bill, you listen to the worst music on the planet. You are a joke. Way to publish a pathetically biased article bashing a well-respected and genre-defining Philadelphia band. Now everybody hates you. Nice going, Bill.
Hey, PhiladelphiaWeekly - fire this pussy.”
OK, OK, you get the idea. The really nasty ones have already been deleted. A few of the first comments included a MySpace link to my profile and commands to go look at my terrible music preferences. When I saw that I laughed. I haven't logged in to MySpace in months. So I went and changed my music choices to just The Starting Line. This clearly confused a few readers and that's just what I was hoping for.
Also, want to see what I wrote back to Ken? It's right on the money if you ask me.
It may not be productive to even write a reply. I'm not sure why you'd get so upset about something like this. You're an artist. Not everyone's going to love your work. If you read Philadelphia Weekly then you'd probably notice that Week's Worst is a column we have every week. Many writers pitch show blurbs and Week's Worsts and a handful are assigned. A band coming to town is featured in a not-so-kind light every week. Not every publication is going to be 100% positivity.
Want to get me on a list the next time you're in town? I listened to your records, MySpace page, watched live clips and YouTube videos while educating myself on your band and your sound. More than can be said for most writers, I'd bet. Congratulations on the success of both shows.
Not sure why you had to say that I'm going to have a pathetic career. I love music writing. Been doing it for years and plan on keeping it up. I hope you keep making records and that one day I'll listen to one and say 'Damn. This is great. I was wrong.'
YOURS, Bill Chenevert"
Also, holy shit, just noticed that Michael Alan Goldberg's Make Major Moves post got 129 comments. Hilarious.
Eminem Relapse (Aftermath) SOUNDS LIKE: Em emerges from a five-year seclusion to rap (angrily) about the usuals: addiction, his family, starlets, and queers FREE ASSOCIATION: Good thing Dre still likes him, not sure many others do FOR FANS OF: Slim Shady, Ghostface, DMX, pills/drugs
Lady Gaga Fame Monster (Interscope/Kon Live) SOUNDS LIKE: The camp queen creates shiny, synthy, super-produced Eurotrash dancefloor hits that highlight her insanity FREE ASSOCIATION: An avowed GaGa hater gives her an honest listen; pass the Hatorade, please FOR FANS OF: Cher, Queen, Bowie, La Roux, dick
Anvil This Is Thirteen (VH1 Classic Records) SOUNDS LIKE: The mighty metalsmiths of Canada have been revived by a 2009 documentary and a label willing to put out these 13 songs FREE ASSOCIATION: An hour of grindy, crunchy, growling old guys; not awful FOR FANS OF: Anthrax, Metallica, Megadeath, Slayer
Every Avenue Picture Perfect (Fearless Records) SOUNDS LIKE: Michigan boys' second LP of alt-pop emo rock is not as bas it could be; it's clean, nothing over 4 minutes, nothing too harsh FREE ASSOCIATION: Get past the stigma of the genre and their look and it's not so bad FOR FANS OF: Blink 182, Weezer, girlfriend breakup songs
The Disco Biscuits Planet Anthem (Diamond Riggs) SOUNDS LIKE: Trance fusion hometown boys make records that reflect their live show; funky, jammy, dancy and trippy FREE ASSOCIATION: A lot less high-energy this time, more polished, poppy, ambient and retro FOR FANS OF: moe., Umphrey's McGee, Sound Tribe, patch pants
Rose Melberg Homemade Ship (K Records) SOUNDS LIKE: In bands since 1992, she's an indie pop Renaissance woman; her second solo is twee as hell and precious FREE ASSOCIATION: Vocals sweeter than Jenny Lewis' blended with simple syrup FOR FANS OF: Go Sailor, Amy Milan/Stars, hushed acoustic rock
Animal Hospital Memory (Barge) SOUNDS LIKE: Minimal but dense post rock opus three years in the making with a few 15-minute journeys through time and brains FREE ASSOCIATION: Sometimes scratchy and reverby, then rhythmic and pretty FOR FANS OF: Tortoise, Brian Eno, chill Fuck Buttons
Lissie Why You Runnin' (Fat Possum) SOUNDS LIKE: Brooding, beautifully dark folk EP from an Illinois girl with an old soul who ran off to CA to find heartache FREE ASSOCIATION: Spare production puts her blazing voice at the eerie front and center FOR FANS OF: Canyon ladies Patti, Joni and Neko, Shelby Lynne
Mudvayne Mudvayne SOUNDS LIKE: Brutally sludgy guitars, unintelligible screaming and angsty nu-metal from creepo makeup-wearing tools FREE ASSOCIATION: You gotta be really into screamo prog-metal to dig this garbage FOR FANS OF: GWAR, Korn, Slipknot, Tool, Halloween
Matt The Electrician Animal Boy SOUNDS LIKE: Old-timey folk singer from Austin, a hard-workin' everyman whose warm raspy voice tells silly, pretty tales FREE ASSOCIATION: Is it bad to say that the highlight might be his version of "Faithfully"? FOR FANS OF: Bon Iver, Will Oldham, old boots
Susan Boyle I Dreamed A Dream SOUNDS LIKE: The old Scottish lassie from Britain's Got Talent somehow became a big deal with a Les Miserables song FREE ASSOCIATION: A "Wild Horses"? Ghastly; this is for cotton-tops and Republicans FOR FANS OF: Michael Buble, Celine Dion, Simon Cowell
Arrington de Dionyso Malaikat dan Singa SOUNDS LIKE: Old Time Relijun multi-instrumentalist's batshit-nuts blend of guttural throat exercises, reverb and horns FREE ASSOCIATION: Usually K Records is trustworthy, this cooked-out LP is a challenge FOR FANS OF: Yoko Ono as a male gypsy punk
OK GO Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky SOUNDS LIKE: Chicago boys' brand of scratchy, pop sensible, feedback-friendly alt rock is better than ever on their third LP FREE ASSOCIATION: Sounds like they're a lil' more glam, funky, dramatic and into Bowie FOR FANS OF: Pixies meets Spoon x Strokes + Cars
Jello Biafra The Audacity of Hype SOUNDS LIKE: Dead Kennedys former frontman is still making loud, kinetic and political records but his scream is aging FREE ASSOCIATION: That record cover is a dig at Obama, right? Politics are confusing FOR FANS OF: Sex Pistols, Henry Rollins, punk politics
Katharine McPhee Unbroken SOUNDS LIKE: California girl with radio pipes singing her face pop face off but sounding like she's from Kentucky FREE ASSOCIATION: How did America let Taylor Hicks win American Idol? Mind-boggling FOR FANS OF: Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Jordin Sparks
Snoop Dogg Malice N Wonderland SOUNDS LIKE: The CA hip hop kingpin's tenth is solid proof of the Doggfather's prowess and smarts about guest picks FREE ASSOCIATION: Seems every hip hop record has a Jazmine Sullivan joint, hallelujah FOR FANS OF: R. Kelly, Pharrell, Dre, Warren G
Wale Attention Deficit SOUNDS LIKE: Silky smooth debut of D.C. emcee with hot guests: GaGa, Jazmine Sullivan, Pharrell, Gucci Mane and Bun B FREE ASSOCIATION: Hot production, beats, choruses, energy and lyricsm; all good things FOR FANS OF: Non-douche Kanye, Mark Ronson, Lupe
Robin Thicke Sex Therapy Sessions SOUNDS LIKE: The falsetto prince drops a sex-funky R&B opus with friends like Jay-Z, Snoop, Kid Cudi, Estelle and Game FREE ASSOCIATION: Drifting into adult territory like John Mayer? So make a sexy record FOR FANS OF: Maxwell, Justin Timberlake, smarminess
Alicia Keys The Element of Freedom SOUNDS LIKE: The R&B princess scales back production/guests a bit for a simpler but still super-produced anthem album FREE ASSOCIATION: Her only guests are Jay-Z and Beyonce; oh you big time now FOR FANS OF: Prince, Erykah Badu, John Legend, Amerie
Q-Tip Kamaal the Abstract SOUNDS LIKE: A strange one from the Tribe hero; a slow, soulful pop-friendly album with rock guitar hooks and tinkly organs FREE ASSOCIATION: Definitely no "Breath and Stop"s or "Vivrant Thing"s but it's solid FOR FANS OF: Common, Pharcyde, Tribe Called Quest
Mary J Blige Stronger with Each Tear SOUNDS LIKE: MJB purists will be outraged with single "The One" and some auto-tunage, but it's a hot jam and a solid album FREE ASSOCIATION: Drake and T.I. were about five when What's the 411? came out FOR FANS OF: Jill Scott, Brandy, Whitney, Alicia Keys
Blakroc Blakroc SOUNDS LIKE: Damon Dash got a Black Keys boner and made them record a hip hop record with serious emcee hotshots FREE ASSOCIATION: Ludacris and ODB? Raekwon, AND RZA? We are in a recession FOR FANS OF: That Black Lips/GZA record, The Grey Album, Mos Def
Bat for Lashes Two Suns Special Edition SOUNDS LIKE: Lovely re-release of the April sophomore effort from Pakistan-born Brit is Pitchfork's #7 album of the year FREE ASSOCIATION: You get "Two + Two" making-of doc and live tracks; "Daniel" is amazing FOR FANS OF: Bjork, Kate Bush, Cat Power, Fur & Gold
Frank Zappa Philly '76 SOUNDS LIKE: Zappa and his freaky crew (including Lady Bianca) at the Spectrum turn out their poppy prog-rock perfectly FREE ASSOCIATION: Frank kills his fascinating blend of singing/speaking (about poodles) FOR FANS OF: Historic performances, Jimi Hendrix, Captain Beefheart
An upstate country boy who was Johnny HighSchool, went to an expensive liberal arts college and took about 20 English classes, went to graduate school in Oregon for a couple years then came back to the Empire state and tried to pass as a city boy for a minute. Now I'm Philly and I love it.