Despite the presence of Kanye West, Alicia Keys, and Chris Martin, the star-studded bill at Wednesday night’s Hurricane Sandy benefit concert in New York City was staffed mainly by the classic rock contingent, particularly of the British variety. “This has got to be the largest collection of old English musicians ever assembled in Madison Square Garden”, Mick Jagger astutely quipped from the stage, which his Rolling Stones shared with fellow aged countrymen Paul McCartney, the Who, Eric Clapton, and Roger Waters. Waters’ rendition of “Comfortably Numb” with Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder was one attempt to bridge the noticable age gap, but it was McCartney’s team-up with another representive of the grunge ‘90s that is bound to generate buzz over the next few days.
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One of my favorite debut records from this year was Devin Therriault’s solo record as Devin, Romancing, a smart blast of infectiously fun, hook-laden punk-infused, rock n’ roll. After a slew of very strong performances, he caught the attention of Frenchkiss records, who immediately worked out a deal with him. At the midway point this year, he’s showed no signs of slowing, delivering high-intensity live shows (including several high-profile SXSW gigs) and has been continuously pouring himself into his music.
On first listen, ERAAS’ debut—a spectral passerby of an album—is all ghostly mood and atmosphere, songs of agreeable length but expunged of hooks and conventional structure. You probably won’t find it in the Avant-Garde section of your local record store, but its 40 pop-purged minutes don’t pretend to peddle in radio-friendly verse-chorus expediency. Like the Danger Mouse/Daniele Luppi collaboration Rome (a score to a western that doesn’t exist), ERAAS aspires to tell us a story through cinematic aurality, the sounds and score of a gothic horror film that might have graced small screens in seedy theaters in the late ‘60s/early’ 70s in the dark corners of New York, the floors all sticky and the film grainy and scratchy, the seat cushions torn. Maybe it’s because I watched The Innocents the night before the album came out and I had the supernatural permeating my mind, or maybe because it’s the most ghoul-saturated month of the year, but a haunted house quality pervades ERAAS.
Looking back at the heady days of the “Revolution Summer” of 1985 in Washington D.C., when punks bands like Gray Matter and Marginal Man tried to merge the deep furrows of their conscience and dissidence with the sonic battering ram of distortion and dissonance, Rites of Spring became the emblem of punk undergoing reconstruction.
Just as punk grew more taut and by-the-numbers in the post-1982 time warp, Rites of Spring felt ad-lib and stretched-out; vital, not humdrum; and convincingly urgent, not merely unctuous, like a depressingly reinforced hard’n’fast template borrowed from others.
Formed in the aftermath of broken bands as a roiling amalgam of Faith and Insurrection (two local iconic teenage hardcore bands), they catalyzed a whole new breed of punk armed with raspy, pummeling, and poetic visions and dogged, anything-goes, slightly ratty musicianship. Akin to a loose-knit version of mid-period Hüsker Dü, their songs feel doggedly literate. Exploring isolation, woe, and the bitter flux of relationships, Guy Picciotto’s verses betray a severe sense of intellect that outmaneuvers the mere muscled flex of hardcore punk music.
Why is it that duos make some of the heaviest music? There’s the blistering pop-punk of Vancouver’s Japandroids. There’s the blistering garage-punk of Chicago’s White Mystery. There’s the bass-and-drum assault of Providence’s Lightning Bolt and Seattle’s Big Business, although the latter added a guitar on their last album… and became decidedly less assaultive in the process. There’s the mean-mugging, ear-shattering electro crossover of Justice and Sleigh Bells. There’s Sunn 0))), of course, which will always be two vets toppling Richter scales with reverb, Oren Ambarchi’s synths and Atilla Csihar’s vocal cords notwithstanding. Even the Black Keys and the now-defunct White Stripes cut their teeth on blues-rock muscularity before folding into the hook-savvy mainstream. If Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, the patron saints of quiet rock, linked the two-man band format with a delicate touch, then these bands have mounted something of an emphatic counterlegacy.