The Blood Brothers, Burn, Piano Island, Burn (Artist Direct)

The Blood Brothers - Burn, Piano Island, Burn The Blood Brothers
Burn, Piano Island, Burn
Artist Direct
By: Eric Greenwood

The Blood Brothers' spastic, abrasive aggression is an acquired taste to say the least- even for those with a predilection to appreciate insanely frantic hardcore. On Burn, Piano Island, Burn, the Seattle quintet's third album, the band teams up with Limp Bizkit's producer, Ross Robinson, and turns out its most accessible record to date. That's not really saying much, as the average indie rocker would still likely soil himself at the sound of this band's raging urgency.

Burn, Piano Island, Burn is an anomaly for so many reasons. Most hardcore bands are pissed off at either the government or their girlfriends, but The Blood Brothers rage about nothing in particular. The surrealistic, bewildering bend of the lyrics causes constant head scratching on the part of the unsuspecting listener: "I fed its limp indifferent walls tales of an ark haunted with the five howls/I tied a nervous noose of piano wire and wrapped it around the mocking throat of the past" ("Burn, Piano Island Burn"). The anger is a pose, which will likely alienate true hardcore punk fans, so you're not likely to see a homeless, dreadlocked crust punk with a blind dog wearing a jacket with a Blood Brothers patch sandwiched between Crass and The Dead Kennedys any time soon.

Robinson's production is much slicker than the band's previous output, accentuating melody whenever possible, and this new, shellacked veneer sounds so bizarre in this violent context. What hardcore album ever sounded good? It almost seems silly. It's hard to make The Blood Brothers palatable to a mass audience given the onslaught of guitars, frenetic changes, and dual, screeching vocals, but once you attune your ears to the unorthodox delivery, you'll very likely see this album for the one-dimensional Mr. Bungle homage that it is. I'm only half-joking. When the screaming subsides, though, the singing voices do sound like Mike Patton on helium. I honestly much prefer the screaming.

The Blood Brothers pretty much have one speed: murder. This will tire even the most patient ears after about fifteen minutes, although, the album does show signs of expanded musical breadth with slower, albeit, brief melodic interludes and unconventional instrumentation (xylophones, toy pianos). It's not nearly enough to make this an album you could sit through twice in a row, unless you were trying to kill your pets or piss off your mom, but, if a wider audience is the intended goal, then this is certainly a step forward.

The White Stripes, Elephant (V2)

The White Stripes - Elephant The White Stripes
By: Eric Greenwood

Miraculously untainted by severe over-exposure, The White Stripes return with another blistering set of mock-blues through the eyes of two pasty white-faced Goths from Detroit in candy stripe drag. Musically, Elephant is just as raw and spontaneous as it would have been had no one given two shits about the duo's breakthrough album, White Blood Cells. Lyrically, however, Jack White acknowledges some of the effects of fame and fortune with hints of paranoia and defensive aggression, but these moments are few and far between the searing, squawking guitar solos that will blow the hair clear off your head.

White's main concern is not his stature in any rock and roll climate, indie or otherwise, but, rather, the rock and roll itself. Elephant is an old fashioned rock record- the kind almost no band dares even try to make anymore for fear of being trampled with 'retread' accusations. But this is a challenge White clearly yearns for, as he's confident that his guitar chops are on par with the ghosts of legendary blues-men past. Infused with disingenuous bravado, white-boy blues, and a cataclysmic urgency, Elephant is a mass of contradictions, wherein Jack White struts his guitar machismo while simultaneously yearning for his mother's love.

Eschewing any hint of technology, The White Stripes used strictly vintage instruments in the two-week studio stint in London it took to create Elephant (nothing created post-1963, thank you very much) and opted for vinyl copies of its promotional material, just to be consistent. It's a strange irony, then, that the pirated copies being downloaded weeks before its official release contained the crackle and hiss of vinyl. Such attention to detail pays off, though, as Elephant is a startlingly dark and consistent record, incorporating frequencies never before heard on a White Stripes album.

The slinky bass line that opens "Seven Nation Army" is actually just a guitar fed through an old octave pedal, but it seduces all the same. And while Meg White is certainly not running for John Bonham any time soon, her self-consciously minimal style allows more room for Jack White's crazed guitar theatrics. It's a subtle anthem, hypnotic in its uniform pulse yet frantic in its shrill aggression and an outstanding opener. "Black Math" explores familiar garage rock territory but with explosive results. White sounds truly possessed in his manic delivery, and the guitar is as crunchy as it is jaunty. Then, suddenly, Queen enters the list of influences on the "Dead Leaves On The Dirty Ground" rewrite, "There's No Home For You Here", with its wall of choral Jack Whites and vitriolic guitar.

Covering Dusty Springfield would seem a calculatedly kitsch move for a band like The White Stripes, but the version of "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself" is truly stunning. White's ability to sound plaintive and sincere one moment and then absolutely out of his mind the next takes the song to unexpected places. Much like the band's gut-punching version of Dolly Parton's "Jolene", this cover almost outshines the original. Allowing Meg White to sing unaccompanied wouldn't behoove many bands' stature, but what she lacks in talent she makes up for with unassuming charm, making "In The Cold, Cold Night" not only palatable but also somewhat hard to resist.

Despite all the showiness inherent to The White Stripes' schtick, Jack White's ballads always manage to reveal a battered heart. He can shift gears effortlessly, pulling you into his complicated quest for love, as on the innocently affecting "I Want To Be The Boy", in which White attempts to woo a girl's mother in vain. Better still is the lovely "You've Got Her In Your Pocket", which seems gentle and sweet on the surface with its light acoustic strumming and plaintive singing but exposes a somewhat sinister agenda at its core. White's delivery is so convincing you'll barely notice his disturbing point of view ("I want to keep you in my pocket/where there's no way out"), but that's a testament to his skillful songwriting.

Sometimes White lays on the cocksure blues act a little thickly. "Ball And A Biscuit" drags on far too long, as White waxes incoherently about his masculinity, but the shit-ripping guitar interludes between the verses make it worth suffering through. White's explosive tangents reveal a prowess that almost justifies such shameless braggadocio. Who knew this guy could play like this? Continuing Elephant's quest for total domination of your accolades is the foot stomping "The Hardest Button To Button", the opening riff of which recalls a sped-up version of the Talking Head's "Psycho Killer." And "Little Acorns" lays a murderous sludge-metal riff over White's sexually charged silliness, where he intones, "be like the squirrel" and makes it sound like a clever idea.

It's easy to hate The White Stripes because one can hardly escape them these days, but Elephant is one of those once in a blue moon records that actually lives up to its hype. There's little fat to cut, as every single song proves its worthiness in one way or another. I had crazy expectations for this album and was sorely disappointed at first. But after weeks of returning to it, I finally understood where it was coming from, and now I can't leave it alone.

The Postal Service, Give Up (Sub-Pop)

The Postal Service - Give Up The Postal Service
Give Up
By: Japanese Correspondent – Patrick Doherty

Now that the synthesis of indie rock and electronic music has become the de facto means of expression for every burgeoning hipster with a penchant for 80's synth-pop and a perfunctory knowledge of the K Records catalogue, it only makes sense that a band like The Postal Service would bubble up to the surface with such fanfare. Directly preceding such an event was DNTEL's Life Is Full Of Possibilities, whose song, "(This is) The Dream Of Evan And Chen", made the unlikely pairing of Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard and Figurine's Jimmy Tamborello seem like something very worthy of further pursuit. As the brainchild of Figurine, Tamborello teamed up with various guest stars for his DNTEL alter ego, in which he tried his slightly over-produced hand at forcing glitch-pop and guitars to live in harmonious coexistence. With Gibbard at his lyrical/vocal best and Tamborello at his own electronic production-based apogee, the collaboration was a seamless work of synth-pop euphoria. A full-length album only logically followed.

With a title like Give Up, one might easily be led to believe it's a depressive piece of shoegazer indulgence, especially with Gibbard on board, but such an assumption couldn't be more inaccurate. Give Up is pure, unadulterated dance pop from start to finish, albeit, with a few noticeable reductions in beats per minute, as on "Sleeping In" and "This Place Is A Prison", but those moments are few and far between. Gibbard lays insanely catchy melodies over top Tamborello's meticulous, almost fetishistic programming on "Such Great Heights" and "Clark Gable", while "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" and "We Will Become Silhouettes" exhibit some of Gibbard's best songwriting to date. Questionable lyrics abound, but Gibbard's sincerity is so believable that he pulls them off, eliciting relatively few squirms. Tamborello shows improved range throughout Give Up, moving from glitch to saccharine electronic melodies (a la, dare I say, The Magnetic Fields) to what can best be described as deconstructed dance music.

Give Up is not as glossy or tightly wound as Life Is Full Of Possibilities, showing that Tamborello also knows how to lighten up on the post-production, making things much more organic and palatable. The scattered duets between Gibbard and Jenny Lewis and/or Jen Wood are bright spots, despite the fact that their voices don't exactly "harmonize", as such, in the classical sense. Contrasting Gibbard's self-arrested, inherently sad voice with perky feminine charm against the backdrop of Tamborello's syncopated beats isn't exactly a bad way to go, as evidenced by the infectiousness of both "Brand New Colony" and "Nothing Better."

Unfortunately, Give Up as a whole does not match the genius of "(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan", and, for that reason alone, it may be doomed in the minds of those who should be its biggest fans. Gibbard's songwriting, while arresting in places (his grammar is impeccable), shows signs of atrophy on tracks like "Clark Gable", strictly because of its forced and somewhat silly lyrical theme. Tamborello gets sloppy as well in a few spots, letting monotony run roughshod over the tension at which he is normally quite adept ("We Will Become Silhouettes"). And, of course, because it's a long-distance collaboration that was originally designed to be an EP, Give Up sounds hastily thrown together at times and lacking direction in others.

But why focus on these relatively minor criticisms when the quality of the album as a whole outweighs its weaknesses? Granted, the small pockets of DNTEL fans anticipating 45 minutes of "(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan" are probably going to be disappointed, but Give Up casts a wide enough net to compensate for such a loss. In fact, the sugary, heart-on-its-sleeve synth-pop of Give UP will likely render that song a distant memory, turning The Postal Service into a real band with a real future.

Radiohead, Hail To The Thief (Capitol)

Radiohead - Hail To The Thief Radiohead
Hail To The Thief
By: Eric Greenwood

I'm sure Thom Yorke's heart is in the right place and all that, but, my God, what is he thinking with that album title? Everyone knows that mixing politics and music is embarrassing, turning the artist into a parody of whatever cause he should champion (or complain about, as the case may be)- no exceptions. So, it's fortunate that Radiohead's message is always encrypted in unintelligible lyrics and indiscernible artwork. Weirdness prevails over obvious, ham-fisted demagoguery on the band's sixth studio album, which finds Radiohead at a crossroads, of sorts, musically. Venture down the isolationist, electronic path of experimental bliss, alienating potential fans in droves, or turn the guitars back up and revel in goat-throwing, bloated-Elvis nostalgia?

Yorke claims that Radiohead will be an unrecognizable band in two years' time. Fair enough. The man doesn't want to repeat himself. Admirable quality but, maybe, next time, eh? Hail To The Thief is almost too recognizable as Radiohead. When you break it down, Hail To The Thief sounds like a chocolate and peanut butter approach to compromising the edgier aspects of the Kid A/Amnesiac period with the more melodic textures of Ok Computer. Sorry, mouth breathing, music-theory nerds, there's barely a hint of Bends-era guitar bravado to be found. But the rest of Radiohead's fanbase can rest easy- plenty of dour melodies, electronic patter, and passively aggressive sentiments obliquely obscured by Yorke's razor thin wail to go round.

As you'd expect from a band as pretentiously arty as Radiohead, Hail To The Thief takes time and effort to sink in. No obvious singles. The melodies are all carefully tucked away in minor keys, coated in jagged noises and unexpected yet brief bouts of aggression. The opener, "2+2=5", is the only truly rocking song on the record. The build-up is worthy of classification as one of Radiohead's finest moments, and when the guitars do kick in, the pay-off is sweet, indeed. Yorke spazzes out, coloring his voice maniacally until the song's abrupt end, and it's breathtakingly good. "Sit Down Stand Up" is another builder, but this time, instead of climaxing with guitars, the song explodes with a million water bubbles into a frantic, frenetic electronic melee led by a brilliantly pulsating bass line. If you're not pledging undying devotion to the band when this occurs, you may as well stop listening because you are far too jaded to appreciate any of it, anyway.

Radiohead's reluctance to write "songs" as opposed to artfully composed "soundscapes" has dogged them since Ok Computer made them the most unlikely rock stars in decades. For Thom Yorke to call this album "Ok Computer 2" in recent interviews is a bit of a stretch, though. It's got much more in common with the robotic, ambient drone of Kid A than the sweeping beauty of Ok Computer. Yorke's melodies are always inventive, if not completely melodramatic, but the music is too scratchpad and difficult to compete with Ok Computer's colossal depth. Granted, Hail To The Thief is closer to its heir than either Kid A or Amnesiac, but that's not really saying much at all, is it?

The biggest problem with Hail to The Thief is its lack of surprise. For those who've already written the band off as arty lightweights, this album does little to rock the boat. Radiohead's morosity is almost cartoon-ish at this point. Still nothing to smile about, lads? There should be enough gold in the socks tucked under your mattresses to buy a small island by now. Yorke's beguiling anger is never directed at anything tangible. It's always just a feeling, but it's a feeling that he – and the band – have mastered. Nobody does "down" quite like Radiohead without crossing the line into self-mockery. Take the shimmering piano ballad, "Sail To The Moon", for example. Yorke's vocals are stretched to the hilt amidst guitars that are the aural equivalent of glitter. It's a distant cousin to "Subterranean Homesick Alien" off Ok Computer, though, gentler and more sentimental, and it's devastatingly pretty.

The first song that actually sounds like a band playing in a room together is "Go To Sleep." Yorke's acoustic introduction is haunting and tense, of course, and the notes he chooses to sing over the serpentine melody are unorthodox, to say the least. It sneaks up on you and grabs you by the throat like so many classic Radiohead songs do. The first single, "There There", is so subtle you could easily forget its tune after only one listen. Yorke, apparently, was so taken with the final mix of it that he wept. I've yet to be affected thusly by it, but I'm holding out hope. I don't think I've cried as a result of a song since I was four when my mother would play "We're All Alone" by Rita Coolidge because she thought it was funny to watch me cry. But that probably says more about me…

Yorke finally reveals a bit of bite on the bile-infested "A Punchup At A Wedding", in which he smarmily accosts a drunken ass for ruining the "big day." The song has a confident swagger with loose, barroom piano and noodly, seventies-sounding guitar interplay. It sounds strangely out of place amongst the other tracks, but that somehow makes it easier to appreciate. The wiry, fuzzed-out bass intro to "Myxomatosis" gives way to Yorke's studied and calculated vocal tension. The monotone chorus fits the repetitive drone of the bass as Yorke blithely mumbles, "I don't know why I feel so tongue-tied." A love song it is not.

To be as important as Radiohead is six albums into its career is a feat on par only with legendary performers of the highest order. Any complaining one can do about Hail To The Thief almost seems excessively picky. Bands just can't be this good for this long. I have to try to find flaws. Reading what I've written so far, it sounds like I may not love this album, but I do. It's just that the bar is set so high, which is an obvious testament to the band's colossal talent. Hail To The Thief is not Radiohead's apex, but it's damn near it.