Avenue of the Flags

(Film Guerrero)

Manic indie pop for unsettled admirers of beauty.

Plenty of things are pretty, but in order to keep


CD Reviews


Avenue of the Flags

(Film Guerrero)

Manic indie pop for unsettled admirers of beauty.

Plenty of things are pretty, but in order to keep the ever-wandering eye (or ear) of the beholder, one must keep things interesting or risk extinction. That said, Buellton's atmospheric, swirling indie-pop debut smartly reaches toward the rusty, patinated side of beauty. The So-Cal quartet layers their moody, Modesto-esque songs with thin sheets of looped lethargy and plenty of long-distance ache. Frontman John Nygren often sounds as if he's singing from the outer reaches of war-torn suburbia, while lines of honky tonk-inspired guitars and spaced-out samples make their way into even the most straightforward of the album's 11 tracks. Background vocals are gravelly and abrasive, a good contrast for sweetly sung lines like "Don't get lost/out at sea." On "People Die," something akin to the sound of horse's hooves substitutes for an opening beat, and as Nygren's voice quietly strains over rhythmically plucked guitar strings and dizzying keyboard notes, a Flaming-Lips-meets-Smog vibe emerges. Elsewhere, as on the nearly instrumental "Seattle Sky," overlapping ideas compete, but luckily, the listener always wins. Extraneous lo-fi production sounds and layers for the sake of layers can be obvious and counterproductive, but on Avenue, the mix-matched approach works well. As Buellton knows—and as occasional touring partners Earlimart, Radar Bros., and Acetone can attest—being beautiful isn't always enough. Sometimes you have to be several things at once in order to be anything at all. Laura Learmonth


Someday My Blues Will Cover the Earth

(Beggar's Banquet)

Warn Defever cues the blues and proves his music is more alive than ever.

"Simple make-out R&B" is how Warn Defever aptly describes the latest long-player from his Livonia, Mich.-based band, His Name Is Alive. Listeners familiar with Defever's and HNIA's ever-eclectic and ever-evolving sonic stylings shouldn't be totally surprised by the band's foray into R&B in recent years, but Someday My Blues Will Cover the Earth is such a startling change of pace that even (or especially) longtime fans may be shocked. Almost easy listening throughout its entirety, the album is bluesy beautiful as gospel vocalist Lovetta Pippen—who appeared, albeit less prominently, on a few of the band's previous releases—laments her way through 10 poignant, soulful songs about cheating hearts and gone-wrong affairs. And with haunting, hypnotic standouts like "Write My Name in the Groove" and the title track, Someday is the band's most cohesive, consistent, and fully realized effort since 1996's Stars on ESP. So while longtime devotees probably never guessed that HNIA would be making slow-grooved R&B more than a decade after the experimental sound collage of their 1990 debut, it's practically impossible to deny—at least given the near perfection of Someday—that the band members know exactly what they're doing. Jimmy Draper


A Flight and a Crash

(Epitaph Records)


veterans wear hearts, brains, and sharp tongues on their sleeves.

When Chris Wollard and Chuck Ragan bitterly promise, "Oh, but fucker, yeah you'll get yours," on this record's gritty standout, "Jack of All Trades," they are to be taken with the utmost gravity. When it comes to driving home a point, Hot Water Music have little tolerance for meandering and total faith in their listeners' empathy. It's not condescending to suggest that this is the kind of band that can save a 16-year-old's life. The Gainesville-bred foursome is a pastiche of staggering, ballsy garage, polished post-punk, and keep-it-fucking-real hardcore—and an exemplar of the "whole being greater than the sum of its parts" adage. The raspy menace of their dual vocals (think Dicky Barrett and Henry Rollins at their peak) convincingly obscures the few trite passages ("I see a clear line drawn/a generation all gone wrong") and fortifies the more colorful sentiments ("in the meantime, fucking hospitals and medicine stand towering and cold and pallid"). As far as the compositions go, no great deviations are made from charging emo standbys, but HWM's signature attack—bleating, jagged chords raked over rumbling Bad Religion bass—ages nicely, and is right for the hard emotions and ideas they're conveying. Andrew Bonazelli


United by Fate



S/T EP (Some Records)

Ex-Quicksand leader sidesteps quagmires to update (and defang) his signature sound.

N.Y.C.'s Quicksand only squeezed out two albums and an EP before disbanding (twice, most recently following a blink-and-you'll-miss-it tour with Deftones in 1999), but they left a deep footprint on today's hardcore and emo landscape. Frontman Walter Schreifels, whose impressive pedigree includes stints in Gorilla Biscuits and Youth of Today, had the sort of sublime, gravelly grandeur in voice and guitar that rightfully inspired Axl-esque "What's he doing now?" gossip. Finally, with new outfit Rival Schools' debut LP, we have a definitive answer: Schreifels has grown way more introspective and certainly more creative in his compositions, but he's dropped the pit bull vindictiveness that lit Quicksand's fuse. Lament permeates United by Fate, especially in pretty, downbeat waltzes like "Undercover's On" and "World Invitational." The guitars are loose and tempered to match the disdain in Schreifels' lyrics (lots of track and automobile-racing imagery); only the run-and-gun "Used for Glue" is as urgent and violent as his earlier work. That sugar rush aside, repeated play of both the LP and Rival Schools' collaborative EP with Jonah Matragna of Onelinedrawing (coincidentally, also a newly relaxed graduate of a much more aggressive band, Far) indicates an artist marching forward, proud to stumble along the way. Andrew Bonazelli

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