Thursday, 15 December 2011

Presenting the penultimate installment in this ongoing, self-obsessed series. A Spotify playlist featuring all available recommended tracks is being built daily alongside the list, and can be found by clicking here.

20. Rival Schools – ‘United By Fate’ (2001)
Yet another band on the list who are frequently framed as ‘post-hardcore’ – a term that really only tells you that said band will sound nothing like any other band who are labelled post-hardcore – Rival Schools are made up largely of alumni from old school hardcore bands. Notably this includes Walter Schreifels of Quicksand and Gorilla Biscuits, but Rival Schools is a more grungey and less urgent prospect than either of these. Fuzzy guitars weave chaotically through steady percussion, mellow basslines and Schreifels’ gravelly murmur, occasionally beefing up to pummel a more harder-edged riff. It’s a difficult album to both classify and describe, other than in how it pulls together influences too numerous to mention from all veins of punk rock, fusing them together to provide a listening experience that is as comfortable and tender on the first spin as it is on the hundredth. Splitting quite shortly after this release, they left many wanting more and have thankfully reformed quite recently – eventual second album ‘Pedals’ has shown they still have what it takes.
Recommended Tracks: “Travel By Telephone”, “Everything Has Its Point”, “Used For Glue”

19. Time In Malta – ‘A Second Engine’ (2002)
Melodic hardcore of the kind seemingly obsolete since the late ‘90s/early ‘00s, Time In Malta never made the splash they could have with a touch more promotion behind them. ‘A Second Engine’ was their first LP, and significantly more powerful than the 2004 follow-up ‘Alone With The Alone’. Placing the emphasis firmly on the melody and emotive pressure in their songs, there is an expressive side to even the heavier songs with roared vocals and stomping beatdown guitars. Elsewhere on the album this tendency towards a gentler touch is more overt, with a few tracks dialling down the hardcore elements significantly until the band threaten to become one of the most intriguing alt. rock bands of this century. It’s an almost claustrophobic tightness that the release binds you in, as each song flows into the next with a sense of real progression while maintaining a definable sound in and of itself. ‘A Second Engine’ is a prime example of an album where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, simply down to maintaining a sonic authority all of its own.
Recommended Tracks: “This Revolution”, “Against The Tide”, “Grant’s Stand”

18. Assemblage 23 – ‘Storm’ (2004)
Tom Shear’s Assemblage 23 is a future/electropop project that has long trodden the boards around the electro scene while maintaining a healthy distance from the limelight. Undoubtedly it’s one of the best and most consistent acts on the circuit, but somehow never manages to become a floorfilling high profile frequent headliner. But that’s fine by me - because understated genius has an honesty and joy all of its own. Mixing equal parts modern cyber synth love and Depeche Mode, ‘Storm’ is for these ears the most powerful and glorious of all the A23 releases. This is partly down to the end-to-end quality, with nary a filler track in sight. It’s also partly due to the soaring silver choruses that can be found on tracks like “Human” and “Ground”, catapulting you into windswept grey skies before bringing you crashing back down to earth for the beat-driven verses. But mainly it’s because Shear manages to compose instrumentation and lyrics that carries a whole range of emotive markers – fear, ecstasy, regret, ego – without sacrificing integrity or giving in to self-indulgent personal obsession. Of special note is closing track “30kft”, a self-contained monologue with a minimalist electronic/string backing and a gutwrenching ending that I wouldn’t dream of spoilering on something as crass as a review blog list.
Recommended Tracks: “Human”, “Ground”, “30kft”

17. Engerica – ‘There Are No Happy Endings’ (2005)
Bitter and twisted pop-punk with unexpected screaming spazz-outs, Engerica were for a short while the creepy little brother of the UK alt. rock circuit. You know the kind. The ones who sit in the corner staring blankly at you before cackling maniacally when someone relates a particularly harrowing piece of bad news. ‘There Are No Happy Endings’ was their debut (and, it turned out, only) LP and it’s a shamelessly addictive cut of lean festering meat that leaves a more-ish rotten taste in your mouth. The off-kilter wordplay and song construction are pleasantly at odds with a rather slick production sound, and any potential bleakness inherent to the material is tempered by humour and weirdness. If you’ve been tempted by nothing else in this entry, perhaps the real clincher will be that this is a band unafraid to write a chorus solely consisting of the lyrical refrain “I look like an arsehole! Arsehole!”
Recommended Tracks: “Roadkill”, “My Demise”, “Crooked Sex”

16. Hundred Reasons – ‘Ideas Above Our Station’ (2002)
The majority of Hundred Reasons fans would struggle to argue that they have dipped significantly in quality since this, their debut album. But for one shining moment they were the pinnacle of fresh UK talent – their youthful emo rock more than capable of bringing the sunlight out of the clouds even in our dank, rain-sodden country. ‘Ideas Above Our Station’ is in many ways the perfect example of a debut release. You know within seconds of pressing the ‘Play’ button what is in store for you, celebratory anthems that bloom readily from one moment to the next. Bubbling over with harmony and modest grandeur, I would struggle to think of a better summertime pop album. It’s an LP that infects you directly on the brainstem with irresistible optimism – and for those of us able to briefly set aside our cynicism, that’s a beautiful thing.
Recommended Tracks: “If I Could”, “Shine”, “Silver”

15. autoclav1.1 – ‘Visitor Attractions’ (2006)
Beat-driven ambient utilising a wash of different synthesised instrumentation, sometimes autoclav1.1 comes across as akin to a darker version of early Moby. Perhaps with a fishnet top and some threatening tattoos on his bald, bald head. There’s a warmth to the sound that belies the potential bleakness of the song structure and melodies, while beats are used primarily as a framework for the song as a whole rather than the driving force behind them. There are a couple of other solid releases from this decade, but ‘Visitor Attractions’ picks up this medal simply by sounding the most intuitive and natural of all of them. The only vocals or samples present on the entire recording reside on the track “Miags” which utilises a cut-up monologue on the subject of misanthropy to good effect. If you are in desperate need of a good album to listen to on headphones while walking thoughtfully past poorly-lit allotments in the dead of night, I can’t think of a better choice than this.
Recommended Tracks: “Nothing But Pillow Teeth”, “Dead Sea Tears”, “We All Have A Window”

14. Hopesfall – ‘The Satellite Years’ (2002)
I think by now I have said all I need to about bands being described as ‘post-hardcore’, so this entry can remain sanguine and free of bile. Subsequent releases from Hopesfall brought with them lineup changes and massive disappointment in equal measure, but ‘The Satellite Years’ has a blissful sound all of its own, composed of roughly painted guitars raggedly sewn over a background of echoes and deep black water. Vocals range from strained, mournful singing through to biting growls – and the band is unafraid to throw in seemingly dissonant elements such as gang vocals and hand claps when they deem it necessary. It’s an album bounded by nothing at all, so expansive at times that listening to it intently leaves you floating in orbit, your limbs stretching to infinity and your eyes full of stars. The atmosphere that pervades throughout has the feeling of being constructed instinctively with little to no conscious thought from the band members, providing an easy sense of honesty that pulls the LP back from a progressive brink that it is led to with a reverb-glazed spacey production. There are many albums I absolutely love while feeling unable to articulate precisely why, and this is one of them.
Recommended Tracks: “Decoys Like Curves”, “Escape Pod For Intangibles”, “The Bending”

13. Raging Speedhorn – ‘We Will Be Dead Tomorrow’ (2002)
UK sludgecore stalwarts Raging Speedhorn were never a band to feel diluted or restrained, and ‘We Will Be Dead Tomorrow’ is possibly the best example of their spit-soaked, knife-to-the-spine delivery. Rumbling bass and deep-fried Sabbath guitars roll forwards like a rusting juggernaut driven by a dying tiger, sustained only by irresponsible amphetamine consumption and truly vast blood-alcohol levels. Percussion akin to constant meteor impacts strains to pin everything into place while the screaming/screaming a bit harder dual vocal delivery serves to hammer home what you probably already knew – this is not music for the faint of heart or pretty of face. There’s more variation on show that on their eponymous debut, with a couple of tracks being quick, deliberate and approachable enough to make it as singles. It’s maniacal stuff and heavy as well, but remains just about accessible for anyone not completely given over to riffs ragged enough to leave raw, bleeding wounds.
Recommended Tracks: “The Hate Song”, “Iron Cobra”, “Heartbreaker”

12. Front Line Assembly – ‘Improvised Electronic Device’ (2010)
‘Improvised Electronic Device’ is a masterclass in metal-tinged EBM, delivered by the fathers of the genre in the third decade of their existence. It’s a reminder that though it is tempting to dismiss musical pioneers once their initial burst of productivity and inspiration has run dry, one should never assume they cannot continue to shock and awe you years later. Almost effortlessly the best record put out by FLA since 1992’s definitive ‘Tactical Neural Implant’, this album takes the prospectively disparate elements of industrial beats, clipped and bruised metal guitar riffs and trancelike EBM synthlines before guiding them together with such confidence you feel like firmly kicking genre conventions back into the gutter where they belong. It’s almost shameful that this isn’t an ability shared by their peers and descendants, many of whom have had more than enough time to ease these transitions into place. Backed by a gaggle of younger rivetheads (and on one memorable track, eternal brain terrorist Al Jourgensen), scene stalwart Bill Leeb lurches with his machine voice like some gargantuan spider constructed of repurposed circuit boards and shattered glass. This is all especially impressive given the lack of sometime-member and electronic guru Rhys Fulber for this LP, since the quality of an FLA album can typically be measured against whether he is on board or not. Perhaps the injection of youthful energy helped make ‘Improvised Electronic Device’ what it is – regardless, it is a glorious thing when old favourites manifest themselves again and prove that they’re just as vital now as they ever were.
Recommended Tracks: “Angriff”, “Shifting Through The Lens”, “Pressure Wave”

11. mclusky – ‘mclusky Do Dallas’ (2002)
Oh, mclusky. You are missed, in the very special way that comes with leaving a decent swathe of follow-up bands in your wake. But though the former members have gone on to great and good things (on this very list, in fact) nothing may ever match writing and singing the lyric “Cartoon monkeys got you hard / It must have been the hair.” They were a dry heave to the face of the alt. rock mainstream, a punk-tinged raw noise in the middle of the night that left you shivering under the covers and masturbating furiously to drive away the demons. At times schizophrenic in the best (and most incorrect) sense of the word due to having two songwriters at war with each other, ‘mclusky Do Dallas’ makes the most of its bubonic Steve Albini production and embraces you like a seductive co-worker in evil clown facepaint. Guitars and bass played by devious insects writhe alongside bile-strewn oddly intoned vocals under a vast cracked lens made by socially awkward scientists for purposes best left unmentioned. It would be great music journalism clich√© if I could confidently say there was some beating, tender emotional heart under all this. That there was something to tether to other than a creeping sense of addictive discomfort. But no. No. There is just mclusky. Stood there, trousers down and blunt instruments in hand. Waiting for you to stop screaming so they can tell you what is wrong with your haircut inbetween each crushed nerve and broken bone.
Recommended Tracks: “Dethink To Survive”, “To Hell With Good Intentions”, “Alan Is A Cowboy Killer”

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