Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
Mature Themes
4AD [2012]

2005 was a strange year, I was an unmotivated barista with a family of mice living in the engine of my Subaru who was slowly falling for a bizarre pop crooner called Ariel Pink. Paw Tracks had begun releasing his formerly CD-R-only albums and as far as I was concerned, he was a musical visionary (this was before I knew who R. Stevie Moore was). In the subsequent seven years my relationship with Ariel has fractured, something about those early days has kept me hanging on. Each new and increasingly underwhelming release (or re-release, sometimes it’s hard to tell) has left me feeling like an Ariel Pink apologist, the terrified and abused housewife of a fading star. I’d babble to myself “Ok, so Loverboy isn’t GREAT, but it’s got two REALLY GOOD SONGS, so, you know…”, wringing my hands and forcing a smile. Thankfully and rather unexpectedly he made one of the best records of 2010 - Before Today sounded fresh and quelled fears that he’d lost whatever magic he had in making a “studio” album. As is the curse with the things you love, that album unknowingly poisoned me with expectation, so when I saw Mature Themes staring at me from across the record store (on my birthday, no less) I should have known better. Not that it’s a bad record, because it’s not. The first three tracks (“Kinski Assassin”, “Is This the Best Spot”, and “Mature Themes”) are great bursts of vintage Pink. However, their hooky synth sameness prepares you for possibly the least diverse record he’s ever made. Perhaps it’s the collaborative aspect of having a “band” now causing some of this banality, I guess it’s pointless to speculate, but I’ve always preferred AP’sHG as a dictatorship. The only other bright spots are the spacey nightclub jam “Symphony of the Nymph”, the depressingly joyous (or vice versa) “Live It Up” (slightly reminiscent of former collaborator John Maus’ current work), and the fluidly Eno-esque “Nostradamus and Me”. Mature Themes’ tendency to meander as often as impress is unfortunate, but hardly surprising. I had a feeling this review might lean toward the personal, mainly because they all do, but also because I’ve been living and dying with this guy a while now. This record seems detached, but oddly enough I don’t care the way I may have in the past. If you’re new to Ariel Pink DON’T start here – go buy the Doldrums and stay up all night playing Grand Theft Auto 3. It may not sound as good but it’ll mean more.  

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dry Feet
Highway To Heck EP
Secret Cookies Records [2012]

Here's a few dudes from the city of brotherly love who more or less admit that their surf rock influences don't come from actually surfing. I love it. That attitude also seems to be a growing trend in the never-ending musical explosion we currently, ironically refer to as independent rock music…this sub-genre touching on indie punk surf rock (if you will). I mean hey, I think Dennis was the only Beach Boy who actually surfed right? The aptly named group, Dry Feet, bust out five crushing tracks - some so surfy you'll suffer mental embarrassment by imagining yourself paddling in and almost waving to a barefoot Dick Dale, who smiles and makes proud eye contact with you while strumming frantically on the incoming shore. Other songs will remind you of lo-fi garage groups such as The Mummies while even others will shockingly bring about visions of piano slamming lo-fi power pop shreds a la The Boys. Highway To Heck could be an Estrus record…if you dig that kinda thing (think Phantom Surfers, less serious, more balls) or Man or Astro-Man? but instead of a Horror/Sci-Fi theme these kids are eating Doritos and spilling Big Gulps during practice. Dry Feet hit multiple facets of entertainment for me and for a 45 RPM record, it sure packs a lot of action.  

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Plastic Cross
Grayscale Rainbows
Don Giovanni Records [2012]

When you form a hardcore supergroup from the ashes of legendary tri-state acts, there are a few things you can almost always expect: a tight performance, brilliant songwriting, and a moderately receptive audience. One thing you can't necessarily count on is that the collaborative effort will succeed in compromising on solid and effective subject matter. I can report with confidence that Plastic Cross is an exception to that rule. The Degenerics vocalist CraigFuYong leads one of the many incarnations of The Measure [sa]'s lineup and takes the modern-day hardcore music scene by storm. But there's more. On their debut LP, Grayscale Rainbows, Plastic Cross blends influenced themes and sounds that trace as far back as classic 80's east coast hardcore, borrows the fury, energy, and angst of 90's regional hardcore, and simultaneously presents it's listeners with a new, current and relevant approach. The main theme of Grayscale Rainbows remains similar to ideas that a good number of the more outspoken groups of the 90's and early 2000's brought us. A world of sheep, blinded by the governing rich, perpetually infected by its own undoing. The songs are hard with occasional crowd-pleasing melodic moments, yet dominated by a reining frustration. Although the layout of the record literally illustrated the concept behind the donning of a plastic cross, my personal take on the record after absorbing several listens was and still is the idea of a moral distance from those in society with superficial commitments. One thing that comes inarguably clear after an encounter with this album is that Plastic Cross, the band, is supremely committed.