Appomattox, Appomattox (Self-released)

Appomattox - Appomattox Appomattox
By: Eric Greenwood

Boston's Appomattox has been slowly cultivating its unique brand of noisy indie rock since splintering away from guitarist Cliff Rawson and its lavish and dynamic former incarnation, Araby, just over two years ago. With a pummeling schedule of Northeastern shows, the band has taken its time producing its first self-titled, self-released EP.

The resulting six songs reveal an ambitious and explosive interplay between melody and calculated noise. Nick Gaynier's voice immediately sets the band apart; his tone is crystalline and distinctive with a range much higher than his peers. The musical foundation for the power trio is clearly pop, but the jolts of guitar and stuttering percussion uncover an ear for experimental no-wave, post-punk, and even classic rock.

Musically, Appomattox veers towards the darker end of the pop spectrum, as Gaynier's voice soars over the urgent and frenzied stops and starts while retaining a sense of inherent melody and infectiousness. "Either Way" has hit song written all over it. The guitars charge out of the gate as the drums rush past twice as fast. Then, abruptly, the guitar slows to a very Blonde Redhead-ish note stabbing, allowing Gaynier to shout out the verse. It all comes together in a chorus that you will not be able to get out of your head for days.

The evolution from Araby is immediately obvious. The focus is no longer on sprawling melodies or strained harmonies. Appomattox trades its former band's drama for energy and muscle, and the gamble more than pays off.


The Rapture, Pieces Of The People We Love (Universal Motown)

The Rapture - Pieces Of The People We Love The Rapture
Pieces Of The People We Love
Universal Motown
By: Eric Greenwood

I liked The Rapture a whole lot better back when it blatantly ripped off The Cure and Bauhaus and Gang of Four as opposed to cheesy, cheesy dance music. The Rapture fell off my radar the moment Echoes finally came out. What a colossal letdown. The only thing that initially made The Rapture listenable was its haphazard, brink-of-falling-apart dance-punk cacophony, so now that everything is smoothed over and palatable by trendy, of the moment producers, there is nothing unique or even remotely interesting left. Luke Jenner's whinnying yelp even sounds processed and professional now. Who needs that nonsense? I much prefer his tuneless recklessness. Can this be the same band that wrote "Out of The Races and onto the Tracks?"

I imagine the indie darling status went to their heads after the frothy response to Echoes. The Cure's Robert Smith even invited them along for the Curiosa Festival in 2004. The chance to appeal to a mass audience was clearly too much to ignore. I understand how hard it is for bands to survive, so some level of commercial success goes hand in hand with longevity, not to mention the pressure of following up a critically lauded record. There's a balance to sacrificing your art for commerce, though, and how far you're willing to go. Most bands are a little sneakier. At least The Rapture is being honest in its grasp for radio shares.

It's always so much worse when a band with potential lets you down. I probably wouldn't have so much disgust for The Rapture right now if its earlier records had been this ho-hum, but they weren't. They were exciting and crazy and kind of scary, and you could dance to them and still want to break shit. That's the balance I'm talking about. It's much harder to make artful, cutting edge music appealing to a broad audience than this goofy disco pap. Less cowbell, please.

Cursive, Happy Hollow (Saddle Creek)

Cursive - Happy Hollow Cursive
Happy Hollow
Saddle Creek
By: Eric Greenwood

The Ugly Organ is my favorite Cursive album, hands down, and it was Kasher's post-post break-up album. It was the culmination of all the promiscuity, drunken nights, and wrong words said turned into a corrosive morass of regret, jealousy, anger, and frustration. It played into the very definition of emo, of sleeve-wearing emotions, of self-obsession, and of self-loathing. Yet, it was an album about an album about those things. Meta-emo.

And emo is, perhaps, one of the most-maligned subgenres since disco. The thing is it isn't emo that sucks outright. It's the watered down versions of emo promulgated by the imitators and the coattail riders, who give it such a bad name. The Fall Out Boys. The Saves The Days. The Dashboard Confessionals. These are the bands, which steal the poo out of the apes' hands and fling it at the public indiscriminately, and it subsequently gets labeled emo all the way down to your little sister's pop station.

It's a tired subject to be sure, but Cursive often gets prematurely dismissed for being peripherally associated with emo and all its trappings, and I think the band deserves further scrutiny. Cursive is emo all the live-long day, but Saves the Day is not. The difference is Cursive has helped define the genre, has changed it, and pushed it to its limits, which, to me, deserves more than a shallow dismissal. Saves the Day is to emo as Creed is to grunge.

I'll be the first to say that I despise emo because my knee jerk reaction when I hear the word elicits thoughts of all the horrendous pop-punk schlockmeisters and tone-deaf whiners who spray their verbal fecal disasters in snot-nosed sugar-coated indignance, but when it comes down to it, some of my favorite albums are technically emo at their core: End on End, New Plastic Ideas, Repeater, Zen Arcade. If the definition of emo is held to light, any emotionally charged album played with any inherently rooted punk affectation is technically emo. Fuck, Joy Division is emo. The Cure is emo. It's silly.

And, yes, Cursive's past two albums are everything emo could ever aspire to be: tense, emotional, and cathartic. But Happy Hollow distances the band from its roots. Kasher has matured as a songwriter and a person. He obviously can't scream about girls forever, so, unless he wanted to become a mockery of himself, he had to shake things up a bit.

Happy Hollow is the first Cursive album to look outward. Kasher still has a lot of pent-up anger, but he knows how to express it better. Maturation usually signals the death knell of a band. Rock music and punk in particular, fuels itself on the reckless abandon of youth. Well, how does a punk band grow? Pure punks would say it doesn't. The punk thing to do would be to quit. But Kasher's never been a purist. He wants to take Cursive places it's never been, and, certainly, places you never thought it could go.

The growing pains are present, though slight, compared to Happy Hollow's grander effect. Kasher turns his angular guitar work into a pop-hook machine, supporting his endless melodies skewering religion, hypocrisy, stagnation, false ideals, and questioning our very existence. It's an ambitious, sprawling string of songs, littered with explosive tangents, skronking horns, and eviscerating lyrics. And, whether you care to call it emo or not, it's in the running for album of the year.

Journey, Greatest Hits (Columbia)

Journey - Greatest Hits Journey
Greatest Hits
By: Michael Jones

While the remaining members of Journey besmirch their legacy touring with, of all things, a former Gap employee filling in for Steve Perry, Columbia Records is re-mastering and re-releasing Journey's entire back catalog, beginning with Greatest Hits, and the timing couldn't be better: a new audience, too young to have appreciated Journey when they were current, is primed to discover the riches that the band offers, while the hipper-than-thou crowd, who ignored them for fear of losing much-coveted cred, can finally appreciate these timeless songs without reproach, as the Rock Dinosaur stigma that Journey was saddled with for the past twenty years is blessedly waning.

Greatest Hits nicely encapsulates Journey's career by offering fifteen classic tracks, most of which you have doubtless heard more times that you could count, either on the radio, television, films or karaoke bars being mauled by pitch-challenged drunks. But therein lies the magic of this band: time has not diminished the quality of these songs, which showcase the guitar virtuosity of Neil Schon and the unparalleled vocals of Steve Perry (and a quick glance at the credits to the best songs on this collection shows that latter-era keyboardist Jonathan Cain was an indispensable songwriter, even if history has not given him the credit that he is due.)

It's hard to imagine Journey ever playing small venues, as their songs beg for an arena full of mulleted fans. Your inner-hescher will certainly throw some goat as "Wheel in the Sky," "Don't Stop Believin'" and, arguably the best rock song ever written, "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) storm out of the speakers, while the incredible ballads like "Faithfully," "Open Arms" and the gorgeous "Send Her My Love" will have you holding your lighter aloft and grabbing some sweet mama for some "Lovin', Touchin' [and] Squeezin'." The album's bonus track, 1996's "When You Love A Woman," can be safely ignored, as it sounds more like Brian Adams schlock than classic Journey, while "Ask the Lonely," from the soundtrack to Two of a Kind, could be deleted from future pressings without anyone being seriously disappointed.

The re-mastering greatly improves the sonic signature of these songs, which is saying a great deal, as they sounded gigantic when they were originally released. So grab a copy and re-acquaint yourself with some of the best songs ever recorded.

Official Site

Alaska The Tiger, Now We’re Familiar (Naked Kids Doing Karate)

Alaska The Tiger - Now We're Familiar Alaska The Tiger
Now We're Familiar
Naked Kids Doing Karate
By: Eric Greenwood

Yes, Alaska the Tiger's name follows the same convention as Pedro the Lion's, but any similarities to the Jade Tree sound end right there. This Columbia, South Carolina trio owes little to nothing to the modern day emo movement, harkening back further to the mid'90's post-rock of Polvo, the blistering intensity of Mission of Burma, and the dawn of the shoegaze movement instead.

While the dark undercurrent that pervades this debut EP betrays a fondness for post-punk's urgency and legacy, Alaska the Tiger doesn't rely simply on volume and speed or even political agitation for its familiar attack. The lyrics follow the politics of personal crises in strikingly oblique verses, avoiding both hardcore's one-dimensional fascism and much of indie rock's smarmy wordplay.

Guitars are splayed out dramatically with plenty of hooks in tow atop vulnerable vocal passages, but both ebb and flow intuitively, hitting the pressure points for memorable melodies and sustaining climaxes without sacrificing any immediacy. Perhaps, the EP's most memorable moment is "Honeybadger", an infectious mix of melodic bass leads, driving percussion, and a haunting, alluring double vocal presence.

The production is markedly indie in its DIY aesthetic, but the tones are distinct and cultivated. You get the feeling Alaska the Tiger would sound like this regardless of the studio. Now We're Familiar may not be familiar to you yet, but this band has a sound that finds a way under your skin and figures out how to stay there.

Alaska the Tiger: Myspace

Junior Boys, So This Is Goodbye (Domino)

Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye Junior Boys
So This Is Goodbye
By: Eric Greenwood

In today's gimmicky, instant gratification and overly niche music market, bands that present themselves in vagueness and anti-image often seem married to a sense of bittersweet nostalgia that doesn't have much bite in 2006. However, mystery still has an inexplicable allure, especially when it's cloaked in such sophisticated and streamlined synthetics as what Junior Boys bathe each track in on its phenomenal second album, So This Is Goodbye.

With its striking, unanimously lauded debut, Last Exit, Junior Boys established itself as the thinking man's synth band, excluding the self-deprecating aloofness of The Magnetic Fields. Hooks were neither instant nor easy, allowing the duo to expand upon our preconceived notions of pop's typically narrow scope with layers of syncopated beats and water-ice synthetics. Vocalist Jeremy Greenspan's over-sexed, breathy delivery scooped our expectations for the dry baritone of The Human Leagues, the Depeche Modes, and The Magnetic Fields of the world.

Greenspan's vocals take on an even bigger role now, as original beat stylist Johnny Dark has been replaced by engineer Matthew Didemus. Whereas on Last Exit, Greenspan's voice barely rose above the din of frozen palpitations, he now uses his slightly effeminate cadence to drive the melodies with even more yearning and innuendo. The hooks still develop slowly, segregating the thinkers from the dancers, but even the latter should not be disappointed as beat-driven, driving tracks like "Double Shadow" and "In the Morning" sate both half-hearted and extreme dance tendencies.

The title track is a duplicitous center piece. On the surface its steady beat seems carefree and unfettered, but the eerie synths bubbling underneath mark the sound of a decaying age, while Greenspan mourns effortlessly, "So This Is Goodbye…" It's the most emotionally complex piece on the record, and it showcases Greenspan's total control of his intentions. This is dance music with unquestionable soul.

Phoenix, It’s Never Been Like That (Astralwerks)

Phoenix - It's Never Been Like That Phoenix
It's Never Been Like That
By: Eric Greenwood

Pop music rarely gets any proper respect, what with all the schlock that permeates commercial radio, but it's pop's melodic accessibility that inherently marks it as music for the masses, which, of course, is typically frowned upon by any discerning arbiter of taste. Thus, calling a band "pop" might sound a bit backhanded, but it's absolutely not meant that way when levied at unabashed pop constructors, Phoenix.

All guilty pleasures notwithstanding, Phoenix combines a breezy interpretation of suave, stylish pop a la Duran Duran with the taught, angular dance-ability of early New Order mixed with the perkiest garage band you could possibly fathom. But confining the band's buoyant infectiousness to retro-fitted influences seems too constricting. Phoenix is definitely not trapped in any sort of early '80's aesthetic- at least not on this album.

In the past Phoenix has straddled that more than delicate balance of emulating too much Rick Astley in its Johnny Hates Jazz lite-soul-pop reincarnation, which is to say, it was barely passable, but there was something alluring in the way Thomas Mars evoked Brian Ferry's ultra-cool schtick that made it difficult to dismiss outright.

With It's Never Been Like That, Phoenix has calculatedly entered a slacker domain- one where jangly guitars only seem insouciant, as opposed to, say, in The Strokes' early singles. Underneath the happy go lucky façade, however, the band still sounds metered and precise, but it works because the songs rise to a level that demands repeated listens.

The punchy opener, "Napoleon Says", inextricably binds a self-deprecating air to a newfound confident identity with hooks so catchy you'll immediately start the song over. "Consolation Prize" stays upbeat, evoking flashes of Dexy's Midnight Runners with choppy guitars and a shimmering chorus, where Mars' voice bleats in a crystalline vacuum.

Phoenix has finally figured out how to construct upbeat, intelligent, modern pop music that you don't have to feel slightly ashamed to admit to liking.