Science Knows No Sin, Distance Holds Your Mystery (Science Knows No Records)

Science Knows No Sin - Distance Holds Your Mystery Science Knows No Sin
Distance Holds Your Mystery
Science Knows No Records
By: Eric Greenwood

Science Knows No Sin is a Columbia, South Carolina quartet that strews intricate melodies throughout its hazy, effects-laden rock. On its debut full-length, the band struggles with the threat of rock and roll versus a mannered and controlled atmosphere. The latter unfortunately wins out most of the time, but there is no question that the potential to rock is there, as the dueling guitars will attest. Susan Margolis is the dominant force amidst her band's cloudy presence. Her nasal voice has an endearing quality- one that cleverly balances affectation and quiet tension.

Jonathan Bradley's steady percussion keeps the music on track. He never over-plays. His rhythms are subtle yet they hold all the diverging elements firmly in place. The guitar interplay is another balancing act: one holds down the song structures with smart, staccato arpeggios while the other accents the harder parts, often flailing off into a wash of classic rock histrionics. The band makes no bones about Margolis' vocals being the center of attention, as they are pushed higher in the mix than anything else. This is only distracting when the mounting tension of the music outweighs the vocal line, which is rare. For the most part, her melodies carry the songs; they draw you in slowly and sink in deeply.

"Tidal Wave" glides along effortlessly- only slightly reminiscent of like-minded ethereal bands of the early 1990's (Pale Saints and Slowdive come to mind). The male backing vocals detract from Margolis' languid effect here, serving almost as a comical foil to her dreamy meandering. Their deadpan intonation reminds me of the conversational tone in the title track of Sonic Youth's "Goo." The rollicking climax at the end – a hornet’s nest of guitars – overshadows it all, though. "Leo" is eerily catchy. Margolis' ambiguous lyrics work against the girlish yearning in her voice, but the way the bass line follows the vocal in the chorus is lovely.

Those pesky back-up vocals can't quite muck up the otherwise steady rocker, "Circles." On "Kaleidoscope" Margolis is heavy on the affectation, invoking some sort of British accent, but it seems to work. She sounds both coy and distracted to the benefit of the song. Also, the band's latent rock and roll side shines here. "Kimchee" is sinister in its foray into more aggressive dynamic shifts. The instrumental incorporates understated keyboards and showcases the band's soft/loud guitar technique. "Backwards" is dissonant and longwinded with ill-advised guitar squawks that don't seem to fit the mood, but the controlled tension of "Capsule" more than makes up for it. Margolis finally pushes her voice here, and it's the album's finest moment.

Distance Holds Your Mystery is a confident and musical, if slightly retro, nod to esoteric rock. You can sense the rock and roll beast thundering at the band’s core, but it rarely rears its head. Still, Science Knows No Sin proves here that it is a force to be reckoned with not only in Columbia's slowly awakening independent music scene but also – almost certainly – on a national level.

The Icarus Line, Mono (Crank!)

The Icarus Line - Mono The Icarus Line
Mono
Crank!
By: Eric Greenwood

The testosterone overload on The Icarus Line's debut full-length makes you wonder if there's something the band is trying to compensate for. It's almost too good to be true. The full-throttle punk rock assault may be a carbon copy of Drive Like Jehu's patented California sound, but it shakes you senseless nonetheless. Squalling guitars clash with bombastic rhythms in an explosive melee that leaves you utterly exhausted. This is solid rock- there's no denying it, but as much as I enjoy being knocked out by wailing guitars, I also can't help but feel slightly cheated by the utter lack of innovation or surprise on Mono.

Maybe punk rock isn't supposed to be surprising or new; maybe it's just supposed to bowl you over with its sheer intensity, and, if that's the case, then this record is an instant classic. As much as I'd like to believe that, though, I still wonder how the members of The Icarus Line justify this blatant thievery to themselves. As temperamental and abrasive as Mono is, you can still predict every single change and progression on it. It melds perfectly the drunken debauchery of garage bands like the New Bomb Turks with the relentless anxiety of myriad punk rock staples from Seaweed to Clawhammer to Black Flag. The real kicker is Joe Cardamone's manic inflection. He's a dead ringer for Drive Like Jehu's Rick Froberg when he screams.

It's only natural to imitate your favorite bands, so as long as you do it just as well or better it's easy to look the other way. This is The Icarus Line's first proper full-length, so the appropriate amount of slack will be cut. These guys are barely old enough to drink (to put it in perspective- they were in fifth grade when Nevermind hit it big), so it's pretty impressive for them to rock this hard – and with such skill – fresh out of the box. There are countless bands that have struggled for years to rock with this much energy and ferocity. The opener, "Love Is Happiness", takes off at a full sprint, as the wiry, double guitar attack underscores Cardamone's frantic yelping. The song just oozes with energy and frustration. If you listen close you can even hear some classic 80's metal riffs creep into the mix.

"You Make Me Nervous" calms down enough to incorporate Amphetamine Reptile-style noise rock and a few dynamic shifts, but "L.O.S.T." revs back up to a sonic blast. The riffs chug along predictably but explode at all the right moments with Cardamone's shriek always in tow. The band experiments with meter on "In Lieu", which allows Cardamone to prove that he can hit notes outside of a shrill scream. His singing is confident and charismatic- probably the byproduct of growing up on tons of cheesy metal, but he makes it work. "The Rape Of The Holy Mother" has to be mentioned as it demonstrates pretty clearly (through hardcore noise) what little of a fuck this band gives about anything held sacred.

The Icarus Line is gunning for all the pretty-boy punk bands papering the walls of the TRL crowd. Mono is a loud, raucous album, and The Icarus Line knows it. The attitude is half of the band's charm. But breaking out of the underground isn't going to happen with Mono- it's far too abrasive for that. The future looks bright, though, if these guys don't get themselves killed picking fights and overindulging themselves along the way. So, complaining about Mono's minor defects seems unnecessary at this point. Sure, it's rife with cliché and youthful excess, but the next album should be even better.

Weezer, S/T (Geffen)

Weezer - S/T Weezer
S/T
Geffen
By: Eric Greenwood

I had always hated Weezer until a friend of mine gave me a mix tape with "Pink Triangle" off Pinkerton on it. The band that I had once pegged as hammy and slick throwaway pop punk now sounded self-effacing and intelligent and catchy all at the same time. I bought Pinkerton and became a full-fledged Weezer fan, despite the stigma (I even went back and bought the first album and learned to appreciate its sunny harmonies and rocking yet glazed over riffs). Apparently, I was not alone in my discovery that there was more to Weezer than what its debut album had imbibed into the public's consciousness.

Pinkerton was a raw and rocking album that abandoned the slick, smarty-pants image for embarrassingly honest yet clever lyrical hooks that showed a darker side to leader Rivers Cuomo. The album flopped commercially, and I remember being totally puzzled as to why. It wasn't for lack of catchy songs- that's for sure. "The Good Life" is, perhaps, still the band's most infectious pop song to date. Maybe it was the raw production that turned off fans in droves. Was the public so lame as to want just a batch of "Buddy Holly" remakes? I was glad Pinkerton flopped. Idiot masses don't know what's good anyway, right?

Apparently, Cuomo didn't take too well to failure. The huge chink in the armor around his ego was more than he could handle, so he went to Harvard. Poor fellow. Frustrated by the lack of adoring fans begging for his autograph, he dropped out two months shy of graduation and holed himself up in an apartment in LA and didn't speak to people for months. He hates Pinkerton – not because it's a bad album – but because it failed. This despite the fact that Pinkerton ignited some kind of underground cult that longed for Weezer's return. The irony is that all the hoopla around the release of Weezer’s long-awaited third album is in large part due to the loyalty of the fans that absolutely worship Pinkerton.

Weezer's third album sounds more like a prequel to its debut than any kind of advancement from Pinkerton. Cuomo's songwriting completely ignores the complexity and blunt emotions of Pinkerton in favor of the same slick production and syrupy harmonies of its debut, save for the rocking first single "Hash Pipe." Apparently, Cuomo wants the world to forget that Pinkerton exists, and he's gone to great lengths to recapture the momentum of the "Blue Album" right down to mimicking the artwork to a "t." Evidently, fame and chart success outweigh musical credibility and a loyal fan-base.

Don't get me wrong. Weezer's new album is good. Cuomo hasn't lost his penchant for irresistible hooks and harmonies. The crunch of his guitar may be softened by Ric Ocasek's production (another holdover from the "Blue Album"), but the riffs are there. "Don't Let Go" is fun, fluffy pop, and so is "Photograph" and so is "Crab", and so on. The thing is, after Pinkerton, I expect more. These songs are too impersonal- too typically Weezer. "Hash Pipe" defies the squeaky clean trend of the new album, though. It's a raunchy rocker with crazy lyrics, kick ass hooks, and bratty yet effective falsetto singing. MTV even bleeps the words "Hash Pipe" in the video, ensuring bad boy press. But don't expect anything else like it here.

"Island In The Sun" is such an obvious single. Cuomo gets to play an innocent dreamer, hamming up his choirboy vocals over the clean guitar riff. Success guaranteed. Call Spike Jonze for the video. Cuomo can churn out these ditties in his sleep, and he has a backlog of songs under his belt that would comprise a decade's worth of albums. For a guy that went through such a dark period in his life this album sure doesn't reflect it. Maybe, it's just his way of coping. Ignore the problem, blah, blah. I guarantee that Pinkerton won't just go away, though. Fans will demand it. He'll have to swallow his pride and face it.

In the meantime, though, this album is a worthy placeholder if not a slight cop-out. It grows on you with every listen. Songs like "Glorious Day" get stuck in your head and you're glad to have it there. What separates Weezer from the minions like Eve 6 and Marvelous 3 is the overwhelming personality inherent to every song- even the standoffish that comprise this third album. Once Cuomo gets over himself and realizes that good music is the bottom line- not buzz bins, and airplay, and screaming teenage girls- Weezer can reclaim its place on the throne it created with Pinkerton.

Film School, Brilliant Career (Me Too!)

Film School - Brilliant Career Film School
Brilliant Career
Me Too!
By: Eric Greenwood

Film School is a self-proclaimed "project" with revolving members. Must be serious. It even has famous special guests. Well, not really. It's just another moody, sprawling, lo-fi rock album that guys from Fuck and Pavement play on. Krayg Burton is the only constant member of Film School since he wears the most hats, having written all the songs and all. One hat he shouldn't wear, though, is "singer." Sometimes when singers warble through their songs it's endearing like when J Mascis and Will Oldham do it. Both of those singers possess varying levels of charisma to back up their wavering inflections. Burton has no such charisma or, apparently, a tuner.

Brilliant Career is an ironic title, although, I am not sure the "revolving" members of the "project" are aware of why that is the case (or maybe they are…hence "revolving"). The album actually starts off promisingly with the tragic instrumental "American Turnip." The chords are somber and dramatic, swelling and deflating amidst distant vocal samples and eerie keyboard undercurrents. Everything rises to a climax of noisy guitar interplay, and it's a gorgeous opener. Things falls apart by the next song, however, as the onslaught of generic indie rock begins. "Not About A Girl" trudges through its boring riff while quietly strained vocals make the hairs in your inner ear prickle awkwardly.

On "Ume's Lament" Burton actually sounds like he's trying to ape J Mascis with his deliberately quivering voice. My cat started crying while "Introduced" was playing…nope, sorry, that was Burton singing in the chorus. I'm starting to understand the "revolving members" thing now. "Intentions" isn't half-bad, but it's such a clear Jesus And Mary Chain rip off with its fuzzy, repetitive guitar and lazy "woo-hoo" vocals that it negates its own progress with blatant mimicry. The songs with sparing or distant vocals (or none at all) are not half bad. "Far Away" is a perfect example wherein Burton's voice is relegated to the background, allowing the music to build the tension. The keyboard solo is the shining moment of the entire album as it competes with layers of distant, wailing guitars.

Burton needs to hire some bandmates that aren't afraid to tell him when to throw a song away. I guess instead of telling him the truth they just quit when they think the material blows. How else can you explain a band that promotes itself as one with "revolving members?" Brilliant Career is rampant with flaws and, thus, a severely inconsistent debut, where the bad easily outweighs the good two to one. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, however. It's called an instrumental.

Saso, Warmed Up (Melted Snow)

Saso - Warmed Up Saso
Warmed Up
Melted Snow
By: Eric Greenwood

Saso's Warmed Up EP looks like a piece of bubblegum with its light pink and baby blue artwork, but it sounds like a slowly shifting mass, comprised of warm analogue textures. The atmosphere is sparse with steady, unobtrusive percussion and stark guitars. Spoken word samples infiltrate "I'll Be The Judge Of That." The vocals are off-putting at first as strained harmonies that sound distantly related to either Squeeze's Paul Carrack or maybe even Don Henley float over the serous melodies.

On "A Lesson Learnt" the vocals are more commanding- this time without the hint of derivation. The bass is thick and thudding, contrasting sharply with the cutting sound of the guitars. The tempos are consistently slow- even plodding, but as downbeat as the music seems there is an inherent sense of hope throughout. "Numbskull"'s opening riff may recall Radiohead in its notation, but the ensuing build-up travels down a completely different road. Keyboards swallow the guitar/bass interplay half way through the song, but it slowly picks up where it left off only to fade into nothing.

The piano in "All My Life" sounds tense until the intertwining guitars chime in. The music is gradual and achingly beautiful. The falsetto vocals are the highlight of the EP, making up for some of the distracting harmonies in earlier songs. Coming in just under twenty minutes Warmed Up is a bit of a misnomer; Saso barely has a chance to say anything much less be adequately warmed up.

Depeche Mode, Exciter (Mute / Reprise)

Depeche Mode - Exciter Depeche Mode
Exciter
Mute / Reprise
By: Eric Greenwood

Depeche Mode flirted with irrelevancy with 1993's overly dramatic and grunge-tinged Songs Of Faith And Devotion, but like so many colossal 1980's holdover bands with too many obsessive fans Depeche Mode talked itself into carrying on, despite singer Dave Gahan's personal turmoil and the prospect of caricature and middle age. It's arguable that Depeche Mode was even working on borrowed time with 1990's Violator, as the band's peak was well-documented for all the world to see in 1989's film and double live album, Depeche Mode 101, but Violator did, for better or worse, broaden the band's commercial appeal.

Gahan's drug problem reached comical proportions with failed suicide attempts and very public heroin arrests in the wake of 1993's Devotional tour, but it's apparently very hard to stop a machine as well oiled as Depeche Mode. A few years' hiatus resulted in the respectable but faulty Ultra album in 1997. Depeche Mode re-emerged slimmed down to a trio, losing longtime keyboardist Alan Wilder, who had been with the band since 1983's Construction Time Again, but Depeche Mode's signature sound was still intact. Martin Gore's songwriting had long since been aping itself, but he still managed to produce the band's finest single in a decade with the infectious groove of "It's No Good."

The double CD retrospective, The Singles 1986>1998, closed the book on the second half of the band's career. The lone new song, the moody, sensual "Only When I Lose Myself", showed a glimmer of life left in Gore's world-weary pen. Twenty-plus years on, Depeche Mode is still churning out the same bleak electronic pop. Exciter sounds exactly like Depeche Mode: Gahan's reverberating baritone leading the onslaught of moody synths, bluesy guitars, atmospheric strings, semi-industrial percussion, and haunting soundscapes. Gores's lyrics may stray on the embarrassing side of modern love and angst, but his melodies are not to be dismissed. No stranger to cliché, Depeche Mode wallows in the familiar world of hopelessness and abandon, but it hires some of Bjork's engineers to make it all sound up to the minute.

For me Depeche Mode's music has always worked best when it set anger against catchy pop, which songs like "Shine" attempts, if only in small doses in between cliches like "I was blind and I saw the light." "The Sweetest Condition" makes up for some of Gore's cheesier tendencies with lines like "getting lost in the folds of your skirt/there's a price that I pay for my mission" with Gahan's vocals sounding appropriately annoyed and vindictive. New Age-y schlock like "When The Body Speaks" reminds the listener that the days of songs about fifteen year old girls are long gone. Gore strews the song with hackneyed, cringe-worthy phrases like "To the soul's desires/the body listens" and "I'm just an angel driving blindly through this world." The up side is that the music with its cellos and strings and chiming guitars is gorgeous and uplifting.

"The Dead Of Night" sounds like an updated version of "Personal Jesus." Teeming with sexuality and frustration, visions of Gahan's on stage preening come to mind. It's a fun and dirty romp of a song- a catchy and upbeat diversion from much of this album's descent into dark self-loathing. The serene ballad "Freelove" wouldn't have been out of place on any of the band's post-Violator albums, but that doesn't take away from its escapist beauty. "I Feel Love" is a pulsating mixture of "I Feel You" and "It's No Good." The familiarity of Gore's melodies isn't a coincidence as he is a rabid recycler of ideas and structures. That doesn't make "I Feel Love" any less catchy, though.

Gore's cabaret-style delivery on "Breathe" gives the old 'running through the days of the week lyric trick' a try. God knows it didn't work when Sting did it on "Seven Days" and Robert Smith embarrassed himself with his version of it on "Friday I'm In Love." Gore's attempt is gossipy and tongue in cheek but still awkward and somewhat stale. "I Am You" lends credence to those arguing for Depeche Mode's relevancy in 2001 as it's easily the band's most effective song since anything off Music For The Masses. Gahan's vocals are shrouded in effects amidst clanging syncopation in the verses, and then the bottom falls out for the chorus- the effects drop off his vocals and the robust melody is staggers in while dramatic strings sweep it all away.

Exciter is a conflicted but effective album. It's as easy to dismiss it as it is to enjoy. While Depeche Mode is clearly too safe and complacent in its formulaic electronic pop, it still carries with it the ability to make dark, unsettling music. Exciter won't change anyone's predetermined opinion of Depeche Mode as a fey, indulgent slick-pop machine, but for longtime fans it isn't just a walk down memory lane.

Modern English, Life In The Gladhouse (1980-1984) (4ad)

Modern English - Life In The Gladhouse (1980-1984) Modern English
Life In The Gladhouse (1980-1984)
4ad
By: Eric Greenwood

After sitting through this Modern English retrospective in its entirety (comprised of the 4AD years only, thank you), I am utterly perplexed as to where the early 80’s bubble gum alternative hit “I Melt With You” came from. Not a single other song on this compilation sounds even remotely similar to it. “I Melt With You” is to Modern English as “Here Comes Your Man” is to the Pixies. If you bought the Pixies' Doolittle based on hearing the latter single, you were in for a rude and life-changing awakening. Unlike the Pixies, however, Modern English didn't back its fluke hit up with consistently groundbreaking tunes, but there's enough here to make this compilation a worthy diversion for fans of obscure post-punk.

In 1981 Modern English was just one in a long line of British art school bands cranking out highly pretentious post-punk, riding the wave created by acts like Echo And The Bunnymen, Joy Division, The Cure, etc. Modern English had that warm, post-punk sound down pat: heavy low end, one-finger keyboards, fey shouting, and cloudy guitars- that is until "I Melt With You" happened in 1982. The prospect of a top-forty hit was a double-edged sword for a band that came from the punk side of the fence. There was success on the one hand and ensured alienation of its underground fan base on the other. In the one-hit wonder heavy 1980's it was imperative that bands not stray from an established formula, but "I Melt With You" was unexpected. Modern English never really figured out what it wanted to be.

The band marred its own career through indecision: should it have jumped on the pop bandwagon it loathed (ABC, Duran Duran) once it got its foot in the door with “I Melt With You” or stayed true to its artistic intentions? The fact that you can’t name a single song by Modern English other than the ubiquitous “I Melt With You” should tell you that the band consistently made the wrong decision at the wrong time for the remainder of its career in the 1980's. The band’s giant leap into obscurity was unavoidable, which makes the fact that 4AD gave the band full “legendary” treatment with this glossy history and compilation somewhat puzzling. The Pixies, I understand. Cocteau Twins, sure. Throwing Muses, absolutely. Modern English seems strange in such company, but the more I listen to this compilation the easier it is to accept.

Life In The Gladhouse (1980-1984) offers a surprising number of notable songs. “16 Days” is a typical gothic rant heavy on the percussion with the guitars relegated to the background and covered in effects. “Gathering Dust” steals Peter Hook's melodic bass tone (not to mention Joy Division producer Martin Hannett's engineering techniques), and the song blasts into a fluid post-punk rocker. “Mesh And Lace” mixes synthesizers and clanging guitars in a dark but melodic attack. Robbie Grey's voice sounds perfectly annoyed and detached amidst all the dissonance. With songs like gothic powerhouse "Black Houses" it's hard to believe the band didn't pick up some of Siouxsie And The Banshees' hungry fanbase, and "Rainbows End" clearly should have been a hit. While not as overtly catchy as "I Melt With You" its chorus is undeniably infectious.

There’s a reason you’ve never heard most of these songs before, though. When the band missed the mark it missed by a long shot. During the Ricochet Days-era the band tried way too hard to reconcile the lure of "I Melt With You"'s appeal with its inherent distaste for commercial pop and the overzealousness resulted in stilted songwriting with few rewards. Too often sentimental labels disrupt the natural order by re-releasing failed albums by forgotten bands, but sometimes it is justifiable. Few geniuses are recognized in their own time (just ask Nick Drake). People of the future probably won’t be touting Modern English as the long lost saviors of rock because of this retrospective, but it will boost the band's image in light of the embarrassing reunion attempts, the sad remake of its only hit, "I Melt With You" in 1990, and the subsequent selling of said hit to Burger King to sell Whoppers to America's corpulent masses.