Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Remembering the band i rise with a review of their demo five years after the fact

i rise was a hardcore band from Massachusetts. I forget how I found out about them, I feel like they were playing a show with Verse or something, but whatever the case, I wound up listening to some basement recordings they had on their MySpace page. For being basement recordings, they sounded pretty good, and you could tell that the band was serious and not like anything else going on. I was excited to find a new band that actually had the promise of being decent. They said they would be recording a demo soon and would mail it to you for $3 or something like that, so I sent them my $3 and soon got my CD in the mail, personalized nonetheless. Inside the foldover cover, the singer wrote "Alway [sic] rember [sic] to lick it before you stick it. Remember that my friend Chris! - Nicky" It was surely awkward, but if the man's message was to not be selfish with your sexual partner, then I can get behind that.

More importantly, the demo straight ruled/rules. It's four songs, all killer. Musically, I would put it in that 108/Burn style of midtempo moshy hardcore, with some fast parts. The guitar work and drumming are great. I know they had different people in the band, but whomever played drums here was really good. The singer and one guitar player are brothers and were the only constants, I believe. There are lots of little pinch harmonic squeals thrown in here and there. Many of the guitar lines are kind of metallic, but not in a cheesy way and not really even in an overt way. They're just good. It's all really fresh sounding, especially for when this came out. There really weren't other bands around doing this kind of thing. As for the vocals, they alternate between the 90s hardcore double tracked talked parts (Earth Crisis, Morning Again, Culture, Poison the Well, etc.) and screaming. The lyrics are good too. Two of the songs are about how much he hates religion, but not some juvenile shit about how Jesus sucks or typical punk stuff about how religion is a business. This is more about how religion ruins the world on a personal level and trying to make it through as a thinking person in a thoughtless world. For example - "You call me crazy for my beliefs, or should I say the lack thereof. But you're the one that lives life for death praying second after second to an imaginary figurehead." Or, "Some preach and scream 'the American dream,' and blow up clinics for what they believe. Some kill with bombs strapped to their flesh and truly believe they're different from the rest." The other two songs, I think, are more about broad personal struggles to escape the shittiness of modern life and I guess to just not be/feel confined in what you think or do, and also to live and say what you believe, to do what you believe in.

We played with them once, probably toward the end of them being a band. I think they were a four piece, but still sounded great. They played the song about praying second after second because our friend asked them to. They were cool guys. The guitar player was wearing the Nirvana Sliver shirt, and I think he was playing "On a Plain" while they were setting up, so that scored high marks in my book, obviously.

I'm guessing I got this some time late winter/early spring of 2007, as it was recorded January 22nd, 2007. Whatever the case, when I got it, I listened to it a lot, like every day for a long time. It's really short, so it's easy to listen to several times in a row. I still listen to it. It's my favorite thing they did. They put out a seven inch after this called "Down" that was good, as well as a split with Soul Control. They did an LP, "For Redemption," and I'm pretty sure broke up/broke down soon thereafter.

They still have that MySpace page up, and have an explanation about why they stopped playing. They say that they kept making less money every time they went on tour (as in negative money) and it was burning them out after two and a half years. I think the larger issue is that, unfortunately, there really just wasn't and probably still isn't space for a band like this. It hasn't been "cool" to care about stuff in hardcore for so long now. There will always be a little sub-scene of people who are into political bands or whatever you want to call them, but that shit died out with the masses of hardcore fans at some point in the late 90s. Let's blame Floorpunch. Anyway, it sucks that this is the case. The same thing happened with Verse. That band's last record, Aggression, was fucking sick, but most of the kids who were/are into music that sounds like that and go to shows like that don't want to hear it. They are militantly apathetic, except when it comes to issues of straight edge, Nikes and colored vinyl. i rise existed in a liminal space where they were not explicitly political enough for the political kids and way too political for most hardcore kids. Oh, and I think all of the labels that put out i rise records went under (not because of putting out i rise records, ha), so that makes it hard to be a band. Plus there is the whole issue with MySpace killing DIY shows cause there were way too many bands trying to "tour" and instead of doing any kind of work, they would just send out mass messages to get on shows. Then there were too many shows happening and people got tired of going and people got tired of doing shows for bands that didn't understand or want to understand what DIY was about, viewing "the scene" as some kind of social/economic ladder mixed with the Hollywood Strip hair metal scene of 1985. People are still burned out on doing/going to shows. There also aren't any good bands.

Anyway, thanks i rise. I appreciated you when you were around, and always will.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Crisis of Music Journalism

"Music journalists." "Rock critics." "Music critics."

What do these people even really do?

I was reading an article in the New York Times yesterday on that band Sleigh Bells. They are really bad and corny (see playing in front of a massive American flag on stage while using a Jackson guitar) but that's not the point. Also the issue of hardcore washup hipsters (see the guitar player having been in Poison the Well but "grown up" and moved to Williamsburg from Florida) is not the point. What IS the point is the article itself - what the writer says, how she says it and why I think she says it.

Basically, the concept of music criticism has long since run out of steam. I have felt this for quite some time, but have not been able to articulate it until reading this article. I feel like there are two things going on here. There really hasn’t been anything good or exciting going on in pop or rock music for a long time. Like probably ten years or so. Secondly, rock critics have been trying to make their own niches for many decades at this point. There is really only so much you can say about music that actually makes sense and is grounded in reality. After a while, you get out into esoteric spaceland and start putting your creative writing skills to work without much connection to what is actually on that record. There are a ton of rock and pop critics, with countless more having come since blogs hit big, and they are all in competition with each other. Just as in so many other fields, you have to make yourself stand out. There is a problem here though. A real one.

You see, when you merge the two issues – a lack of interesting music and a glut of critics who ran out of anything original to say a long time ago – you get a whole lot of emptiness. Take this Sleigh Bells article for example. The way this woman writes about them, they just sound like the most interesting band in the world:

FIRST came the recorded sound: drums and riffs, some demonically heavy marching band. Next, a couple of guys with guitars, who immediately started messing with their pedals in the darkened club. Two minutes later there was Alexis Krauss, with ripped jeans and a distinct saunter. She raised her arms as she reached the microphone, the black-haired queen of this stage. White lights exploded behind her, over a wall of Marshall stacks…

Sounds pretty exciting.

The new record is unmistakably Sleigh Bells, with dense but bigger production that puts Ms. Krauss’s voice into sweet relief over Mr. Miller’s dark metal peals. It is even more guitar driven — Mr. Miller discovered a model, the Jackson USA Soloist, that he loves — and more narrative and lyrical, with a crisper focus on arrangements and harmony over beats.

And then you hear it. Not very exciting anymore. It’s actually pretty boring. I don’t mean to single out Sleigh Bells. It’s not like they’re the worst band in the world. There are vast chasms of yawn inducing, download and delete bands. But Sleigh Bells is the impetus for this.

So why is this? Why does the writer speak of the band like this? I argue that she doesn’t have much of a choice. She can’t just say that they’re shit. If you only ever write that bands are garbage, you won’t make it too far in the journalism biz. So you are left writing positively of bands that often are garbage. What do you do? Make things up. Who cares, right? You can’t get fired for exaggeration like you can in fact-based journalism. You take your creative abilities and run with them. Run far. Like a marathon far. I guess part of it is that she is writing for the New York Times, where 95% of the readership doesn’t know a thing about underground music. This a novelty for them.

But this is a really common thing, the overselling and overhyping of music, where everything is so overblown. I read shit like this all the time. The band will sound really great and exciting and like I said above, then I hear it. And I wonder what the hell the author was listening to. I imagine that it’s the same thing, but they have to find something to say about it.