Classic Album Review :: & You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead — Source Tags & Codes

I fought with myself for a time about which one of the 10+ albums to write about. Minus one album, I fucking love everything this band has released, and the one album is not bad. It just doesn’t hold a candle to everything else this band has done. So, I thought I’d write about the first album that I picked up from this band. Unrelated, but this also stands as my favourite from this band.

On top of having the longest name of any band I revisit on a regular basis, & You Will Know Us By the Trail Of Dead (from here on referred to as Trail of Dead) is one of the most reliable bands that I have ever come across. They brilliantly fuse punk and folk, without sounding too pirate based. Somehow, their recording tone is always huge — larger than life, really.

For just being three main musicians on the recording, it’s a bit amazing. Yes, this album boasts having over 13 musicians in the studio, but the band was only a 3-piece at the time. And, regardless of how many people were in the studio: the drums are what make everything so bombastic. The kick drum in particular permeates every noise layered over it- almost like it is defying anything to try to drown it out.

Guitars are a beautiful drone. Yes, there are probably many layers of distortion and lead riffs, but they are used to create a beautiful miasma that guide the orchestrations from part to part. “How Near How Far” is a brilliant demonstration of this. Though the bass slides up and down the scales, and the guitars jingle through several notes, it creates this level of noise. Yes, there is definition. You need to find it, however. Rarely does an album challenge the listener this much to realize just how beautiful it is.

Now, when I saw challenge the listener, I am not saying that it is off-putting or not pleasant. I am simply pointing out how from afar it seems like a simple pop-rock album with strained vocals. It’s when you sit down and listen deeper that you notice the nuance and complexity that comes with this recording.

Second favourite opening for an album ever, by the way. The only album that takes it over is the album So Divided that Trail of Dead released 4 years later. The intro track is only 1:29, but it complexly disarms the listener before the chaos starts. If you wanted to discredit that track as the intro, the first song (It Was There That I Saw You) kicks the listener in the face right away. It is nothing short of an assault on the senses. As hard as it kicks in, the song moves into a lull by the 1:00 mark. It is an amazing piece, the the song as a whole has an almost classical orchestration.

I could gush over every song individually, but I should really think about wrapping this piece up. My end thoughts on this recommendation are as follows: if you know the band, this album is nowhere near surprising. If you don’t already have it, I question your taste in music. If you DO NOT know this band, do yourself the greatest favour ever and listen through this masterpiece.

Also, you’re welcome.

HEY! Did you know that I have released a book?

It’s a reedit of You’re Not Dead with a bunch of other short stories all wrapped up. The length has ballooned out to a nice 205 pages. It’s really inexpensive, and available most places that you would order a book from! Links here, but let me know if you find more and I will update accordingly!

Classic Album Review :: Alexisonfire — Self Title

I just noticed that this album was almost 20 years old. I was in grade nine when then came out, I was just discovering scremo/emo, ska, and skate punk, I was very embroiled in the metal scene. Then, when watching some music video program way too late at night, I saw the debut for Pulmonary Archery. I did not get it, but Holy Fuck I loved it.

What’s absolutely brilliant about this album is how simple everything is if you remove the guitars. Yes, the guitar lines are incredibly ornate and demonstrate what can be done in punk music, but everything else is simple and fantastic! The bass drives the songs and keeps the structures attainable, the drums do little more than drive the beat, and the singing is just simple enough to get melodies trapped in your head forever. Even the screams are perfectly placed to ensure that you notice them.

Now, let’s get back to those guitars.

My prime example of how incredible the guitars are is the song Counterparts and Number Them. The parts individuly, though weird, are not difficult. The impressive part is in knowing they were ever not entwined. They bounce between being lead and rhythm every bar, and they never leave the listener bored. The best part about the guitar is that nothing, not even the drums, cast the dullest shadow.

There is something magical about how simple the drums are. They just compliment the music and never become overbearing. I think every not-real drummer in my high school could play Pulmonary Archery. Not as a slight! It just leant itself to being replicated.

Now I sound like an arrogant asshole so MOVING ON.

I started to write this, decided against it, and then discovered that they were inspired by Quicksand. I love that band to no end, but never hear anyone talk about them. I was forced into writing this because of that fact alone.

Seeing as there has been nothing this hard hitting in the punk-scene since Refused, and this is a fantastic tribute. I recognize that there have been other near-hits in regards to this sound, but nothing is near as iconic.

Music Review :: Yell the Burden — Lost & Found

I know I usually write about stuff that came out forever ago, but this album just got noticed. It may have just been released.

Anyway, this band is fantastic. I played with them several times, and they are bred from Krhaemer. Krhaemer being one of the first bands that I ever saw. What’s amazing about this band is how they make being ridiculous sound normal. I am getting ahead of myself.

This album has some of the cleanest vocals this band has produced. The vocals are like a less annoying Choke. In fact, this band is like a less annoying several things. Take the best things that the classic punk scene could produce, and distil it all together. That’s right: the best of all the best. Now make it better.

Dillinger Escape Plan meets Belvedere meets Choke meets Fall of Troy. That would be the easiest way I could describe this band.

OH! AND SINGLE KICK! somehow. Seriously, how? The drummer is literally inhuman. When listening to the EP knowing that it’s single kick, you can fathom it. If you had no idea, you assume he used double. To substitute the potential extra hits, his hands strike toms between beats. His hands are so bloody fast.

Have I mentioned the bass yet? One would be put to talk to find jazz with bass this complicated. For the best example, listen to Leaving Shippinsburg and thank me later. The entire thing is just scales and melody’s that shouldn’t be possible.

…and you know that ever part of the band is fantastic if I talk about the ridiculous guitar player last. Considering he is the lead vocal last I saw them, I have a hard time wrapping my mind around playing and singing the songs.

At the end of this short review where I don’t point you to a song but beg you to enjoy this 20 min EP, I am reminded why I usually stick to writing about classic albums. I can delve into political movements and the greater ecosystem that is the music industry. I can examine trends and maybe recommend a track that was ignored by charts and fandom’s. It doesn’t change the fact that if you are a punk fan OR a math-metal fan, you need to listen to this album. You need to explore this bands full back catalogue, but this album is a fantastic place to start.

Download or just listen here.

Classic Album Review :: Thursday — War All the Time

Happy new decade! Yes, I am aware that there was no year zero, thus next year is the new decade. I like 0’s, though: so you have to put up with my excitement for a bit.

This is the best “emo” album ever created, and I have no regrets saying that.

It’s a bit unfortunate that everyone just associates this album with the political climate of the early 2000’s: specifically in response to the “war on terror” and the invasion of the middle east. This album puts a spotlight on the financial situation that we are still plagued by. Everything from a priority put on finances to the abandonment of happiness in a pursuit for the advancement of financial gain.

I digress, let’s start with the music.

I don’t think I have ever found a better intro for an album. “For the Workforce, Drowning” starts this album off with seven of the most abrasive hits that have ever been composed. The entire song highlights the musical prowess of this band. Beautifully harmonized guitars, tasteful drum lines, and an almost off-key singer. I am ready to be proven wrong; but, at least from my personal plunge into music, this marks the first time a bass was used as more that just rhythm. From the 1:52 point until 2:32, the guitar takes a back seat to beautifully composed bass-lead that eases the listener from the barrage that just occurred. It only last for about 30 seconds before the slap-in-the-face that is the ending. It almost creates a false sense of calm before the climax of the chaos.

I use the first song as a kind of beautiful depiction of the album as a whole. “Sleep Ascending” starts a reprise before the brutal sincerity that is “M. Shepard” to the end of the album. This is one of the few albums in my collection where the vocals match the desperation of the music.

I feel out of my depth. I find it very hard to talk about this album without gushing about the vocals which, I have made clear, I am terrible at talking about. I’m a drummer, not a vocalist. I know enough to know that the singer is NOT a good singer. Much like The Cure, I could not fathom this band existing with a different singer.

Long story short, I love this album. Definately for fans of punk and emo from the turn of the millenium. I cannot even say that this album is musically fantastic, but I find it one of the most important releases of my life.

On a personal note, I have been let down three times by this band. Since the first Taste of Chaos Tour in 2005, they have canceled every show that I have tried to see them in. Yes, they always had valid reasons, but teenaged-Jay was disappointed anyway. If you have seen them, let me know how fantastic they were.

This review was written after a discussion with my old bass player, Caitlinn. She brought up the fact that she just found a burned copy of this album, and I reminded her that I made that for her forever ago.

Classic Album Review :: Arab Strap – Elephant Shoe

Fuck, I love this album.

REVIEW OVER

I play: this album is pretty well of opposite of what people think I would be into. Not only is it primarily acoustic, the vocalist has a thick Scottish accent which makes it sounds like he has marbles in his mouth. What gets neglected is just how perfect it fits cold days sitting in front of a computer screen.

As always, my favourite track is the opening song, Cherubs. I opens with a very digital kick drum accenting the two and four beats of the measure. The majority of the song is carried by an almost etherial acoustic guitar and a ghostly piano line that dance gracefully over the vocals. Maybe it’s because of how almost stereotypical the accent is, but it feels like someone narrating over a dreamscape.

I cannot hear a bass in most of the album. The low end is filled by the guitar, and it is a risk that pays off. The almost minimalistic approach maintains a dream-like quality to every track. This is accentuated by the playing with structure.

Though it can be argue, the songs on this album seem to buck traditional organization in favour for an almost natural feel. Parts repeat when they don’t seem to have rhyme or reason to, other parts that feel like there should be a reprise with never return. It can either be frustrating or liberating. In some ways, I feel like it’s the best part. The feel of this album is the main selling point, and the incomplete frustration that occurs almost adds to it.

As mentioned, Cherubs is my favourite track. However, I cannot say that any song is not worth a listen. A few songs elaborate on the fake drums, which never detract from the music by the way. I actually appreciate the fact that the members knew that they were not able to perform the drums. That way, the hits are perfect for what needs to be played.

No one seems to know of this band. If you like this album, I recommend whatever you can find. I admit, I have done little research into this band before today. I can confirm that they get more elaborate with later albums (like how their is a full band on “The Last Romance”) and the structures remain somewhat the same.

Of course, I cannot mention this band without bringing up my friend Adam Evers and his EP that he released earlier this year (2019). Fantastic release that needs all the attention in the world.

godspeed you! black emperor

The car’s on fire
and there’s no driver at the wheel
and the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides
and a dark-wind blows.

the government is corrupt
and we’re all so many drugs with the radio on and the curtains drawn
we are trapped inside the belly of this machine
and the machine is bleeding to death

the sun has fallen down
and the billboards are all leering
and the flags are all dead
at the top of their poles

It went like this;
buildings toppled in on themselves
Mothers clutching babies
dig through the rubble
and pulled out their hair.

The skyline was beautiful on fire
all twisted metal stretching upwards
everything washed in a thin orange haze.

I said kiss me, you’re beautiful
these are truly the last days

you grabbed my hand
and we fell into it-
like a daydream,
or a fever.

we woke up one morning and fell a little further down
for sure it’s the valley of death
I opened up my wallet
and it’s full of blood

I feel like this set of lyrics is one of the most impressive things ever written. Maybe it’s because of the juxtaposition between the words and the music, but the chills it instills drives me to dream of ever writing something this important/this beautiful. If I ever write anything that makes you feel something, it would mean the world to me if you let me know. I strive to do that.

I will have full book news at the end of the year. I hope and pray that you are as excited as I am.

Classic Album Review :: The Beastie Boys — Ill Communication

I love this album, but it is so hard to write about.

As a punk album, it is a fantastic mix of everything possible in the genre. Especially the old hardcore scene from Chicago and New York that was breaking up around the time of the albums release back in ’94. The do not do the scream/squeal that so many bands from that scene did. Instead, the vocalist on those tracks tends to just yell into the mic as hard as he can. The lyrics are non-sense, the tracks are hard hitting, and strangely well composed.

THEN GET IT TOGETHER COMES UP.

It is, by far, my favourite song on the album. Smooth, brilliantly orchestrated, calmly delivered, and contains the most interesting loops found in hip-hop at the time. Featuring Q-Tip throughout the entire track. Feels very different from modern mainstream hip-hop where the guest has a verse. It was clear he was in the studio when this track was cut.

And then, you have the almost-funk interludes. The three members of the band were actually brilliant musicians who just happened to find an audience in hip-hop.

Everyone rants and raves about Paul’s Boutique or Hot Sauce Committee as being their most brilliant album, but I will contend that this is gravely underrated. It holds my credit as being one of the greatest albums of the ’90s, and arguably one of the greatest the Beasties ever released.

As previously mentioned, Get It Together is my favourite song on the album. To ignore the rest, however, is a mild travesty. Get your hands on this gem and love every track.

Classic Album Review :: Kittie — Oracle

I don’t know why I got this album in my head. I was wheeling through my kitchen humming the chorus for What I Always Wanted when my wife, being rather concerned, asked what was wrong with me. The awkward thing is that song is not the only one on the album with singing, but has the least interesting pattern to get stuck in your head.

For being from London, Ontario, this album still scratches an itch that only a few bands can. I hesitate to call it Nu Metal, but it did come out around right around Untouchables by Korn (predating it by a year). Really, a better comparison is The End of All Things to Come by Mudvayne with less “David Bottrill” in the whole sound area.

Very simple guitar and bass. Almost too much (in a good way) drums. Vocals that pierce every inch of your soul. Beautiful singing. To be honest, that is why I have gone this long with never bringing this band up before. I love them, the first 3 albums anyway, but that is literally all I have to say about them.

If you just want something heavy, yet beautiful (in a broken way), you can do MUCH worse. They do the early ’90s sound yet still remain relevant. I mean, Mudvayne and Korn are my only (halfway) decent comparisons, and they really don’t describe this band at all.

Oracle is amazing. Spit and Until the End are good, but a bit more particular. They have one more album, but I hated it.

Personal note: don’t y’all enjoy how I am like “BYE SEE YOU NEXT YEAR” and then publish a review in the same week? I am going to not be doing blog stuff, and I am only going to be writing about music you should check out. I say that not expecting anything fascinating to happen in any other regards this year. I might be wrong.

Radiohead.

Radiohead is one of those bands, you know what I mean? That band that you like to tell people can do no wrong, meanwhile they have released 3 albums that, at the very least, underwhelmed.

Before I continue, this is less a review of the career of this band and more of a personal reflection. If you could not tell from the intro paragraph, I am biased. There are some fantastic documentaries about parts of their career (Meeting People is Easy is a personal favourite) so I won’t even pretend that I could do such a monumental task even the mildest justice.

The first album (Pablo Honey) came out in 1993. I love parts of this album, and couldn’t care less about others. The Bends (released 1995) is pretty well the same tale. I would say that I like more of this album, but it still just seems to be holding onto the early ’90s grunge aesthetic. I am not complaining for that reason, but more that I came in much later into their career and therefore had certain unfair expectations.

OK Computer from 1997 was life-changing for me. It was the first exposure to the band that I had, and I hated it upon first listen. Looking back, I hated it because I couldn’t understand it. It took about 2 years from its debut for me to actually grasp some (not all) of the nuance and beauty that this album held. The complexity of Johnny Greenwood’s guitar riffs in contrast to the simplicity of Phillip Selway’s drum patterns did not make any sense to me before I was about to enter high school.

Kid A and Amnesiac (from the year 2000 and 2001 respectively) changed everything for me. I finally understood OK Computer, then I watched the video for Pyramid Song. I loved that I didn’t understand it. I didn’t find out the time signature for at least five more years. They started to experiment with a more digital production, using computers and drum machines in addition to more contemporary instruments. The juxtaposition was astounding to me.

Hail to the Thief came out in 2003. I first heard it when I borrowed the album from a good friend of mine, and HATED it. I found it arrogant and winey. Well, I did the first time through it. I went to give it back, she forced it back into my hands and told me that I just need to give it another chance.

Thank you, Cristine. Your forcing me to listen to it has secured it into the pantheon of albums that I will never be rid of.

I fell in love with it simply for the first song, 2+2=5. When I actually gave it the chance it deserved, that song blew everything I thought about music out of the water, and left me weeping uncontrollably while I clutched my copy of 1984 in my left hand and wrote my will with my right.

Melodramatic? Might I remind you that I was a senior in high school at the time? I never took drama, but I deserved an award for being one of the most dramatic people that ever lived. Hell, if I knew who I was back then now, I would actively avoid me.

I digress. I was a certified Radiohead fan by the time In Rainbows came out in 2007. I was playing in a grunge/punk/metal band called All Cut Up, and we were all fans of any sort of music that would change the way we looked at life. I distinctly remember this album coming out because my guitar player and I got it release day then avoided each other for 24 hours to digest what we just purchased.

It was amazing. Even the slower songs (like Videotape) had enough depth to keep our little minds attentive.

That’s where I think Radiohead should have ended. I know of one more released, call A Moon Shaped Pool (2016), and I hated it. It was boring.

While writing this, I have been listening to random tracks from random Radiohead albums. I can still remember where I was when I first heard every single one of them. Either in my parents activity room, on a school bus, or organizing stock at work.

I just stuck to the main releases. There are many singles and EPs that have importance, but they deviate so heavily from the overall narrative that the albums create. I cannot say I recommend all of them, but definitely give Talk Show Host a listen.

Music Review :: The Contortionist — Language

No, this is not a classic review, as I often do. Today, I want to bring light to one of the most interesting albums to come out in the last 10 years.

Language is a beautiful album. It contains playful guitar lines, crushing bass, deft drums, etherial keyboards, and one of the most magical juxtapositions of vocals you will ever find.

Actually; let’s start the review with the vocals, for once. The singer has one of the most angelic voices you will find in music, let alone metal. When he sings, it is with one of the most pure tones you will ever find. He hits the notes with clarity only found in top-40’s pop, and he maintains notes for a substantial amount of time. Not since Tool have I found a more talented singer.

Where he gets very interesting is now he switches (at times, in a bar) from the voice of an angel to a daemon. His growl is brutal, Earth-shattering, and chill-inducing. What is beautiful about this album is that he never sticks to one style for too long. In fact, you do not even hear the growl until almost two minutes into track two.

Language part two (track three) opens with one of the most interest flows. The time signatures make little sense if you do not count them actively. The kind of chaos continues for the first minute, then moves into a sort of lull, where the focus seems to be places more the strings than anything else. Near the two minute point until the vocals kick back in, and singing does not return for another 30 or so seconds.

Okay, let’s go back to what I consider to be the most important part of most bands: the drums.

Not only is this possibly my favourite drummer in modern music, the choices he makes in relation to the music is perfect. It truly feels like the drums are another instrument, unlike other pieces where the drums feel like they are there because that’s what has to happen. Think Danny Carey meets Chris Pennie*, and you get a kind of feel for what he’s doing here. Ghost hits and polyrhythms litter the entirety of this album. I have listened to this collection for about a year at this point, and I am STILL discovering parts that I previously missed.

Why do I bring this now? I bring this album to the attention of those who care because this is what the new Tool album should have been more like. 12 years working towards releasing a spiritual rehash? I love Tool. In fact, until recently, they were my favourite band. The long waits, couple with the underwhelming releases that come at the end of the long waits, really ground my admiration with the band to the quick. Do I hate them? Far from. This sort of revelation just implies that I am going to be very critical of everything that they do moving forward.

*Danny Cary and Chris Pennie are Tool and The Dillinger Escape Plan respectively. This comparison will anger some, but I feel that it is just. Have a better comparison? Let me know.