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Tuesday, Mar 6, 2012
By mixing darker shades of old school and modern hardcore with incisive feminist diatribes, War on Women produces a walloping torpedo of truth.

With blistering tunefulness that bridges back to the zenith hardcore days of Black Flag, Baltimore-based War on Women produces a confessional, contoured, and convulsive six-song EP. Although knee-deep in feminist creeds, don’t expect mere socio-politico placards back-dropped by assaulting, dark, and compressed musical templates. In contrast, the band buries any sense of preachiness inside quickstep tunes that can be heavy enough to feel like an injection of lead into the backbone and nimble and acrobatic enough to satisfy any prog-punk fans, all within each tune.

Breathtaking opener “Confess” gallops out of the gate by combining the steel-toed directness of British street punks Deadline with a chorus that feels as mysterious, lilting, and venomous as a brief foray into Tool territory. That balance between raw-boned rancor and effortless ambience happens in a scant two minutes.

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Tuesday, Feb 21, 2012
Brimming with punk prowess, queer biographic forays, and eager earnestness, High Dive makes music for those seeking more than dread and doldrums.

With fifth-gear intensity and whiplash musicality, High Dive melds the world of queer punk politics with biographic narratives that feel poignant as salad days-era Jawbreaker, when the band’s pen felt like picture-perfect haikus of twenty-something angst and beatnik heart-on-the-sleeve tendencies. On its new self-titled album, High Dive feels pregnant with such potential and packs this album with equal parts punch, purpose, smarts, suss, and storytelling.

Originally hailing from Chicago but now settled in nearby small college town Bloomington, Indiana, High Dive channels a rich sense of legacy, including Windy City bands like Alkaline Trio, Smoking Popes, and Lawrence Arms, all of which paved pop-punk trademark fare brimming with acrobatic musical prowess and emotional tenderness. Still, High Dive doesn’t merely dwell in that template: it forge a righteous imagination and stalwart punk ethos all its own, marked by being sexual outsiders in the Protestant heartland.

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Thursday, Feb 9, 2012
Unlike potboiler musicians with kiss-off egos, the Shadow proves that Blank Generation music was open-ended and robust, a welcome home to punk brands of all stripes.

After the initial sweeping vengeance of punk took hold after 1977, a sweeping platform of New Music strode in, re-landscaping pop music. In that heady era, all things converged, from Talking Heads and the Records to Joe Jackson and Ultravox. That’s the genre I sense when listening to Texas-based the Shadow, who melds punk’s knack for the inchoate and off-kilter with a savvy sense of trad-rock hooks and pop-a-delic fare. To be sure, for every bit of mustered, seething psychodrama they vent, a bit of the Age of Aquarius leaks out with modern flair, pummeling, and agility.

“Punk Rock Agent” slips into the earlobe with persistent charm, easily mustering a week’s worth of humming and silent sing-along head nods in the grocery store aisle. Sure, it lacks roughhewn edges and emotional bullets, but the tune’s caffeinated pulse adeptly combines layers of streamlined surf, titanic pop bombast, and a 1960s urge for danceability and crunchy guitar thrust. If a phenom single cut exists on the album, something for future lore about the band, a breakthrough track—this is it, a proud reign of pouncing pop-punk.

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Thursday, Feb 2, 2012
On their album Little Heaven Big Sky, alt-rockers Jealous Creatures aim to never droop or drag, just heave forward with well-crafted--not corporate--tendencies.

Bands like Jealous Creatures make the resurrection of dark driving pop music possible, by tucking tunes into a kind of brooding atmosphere perfect for late-night loitering at cantinas along lonely highways. With a pedigreed pinch of song craft a la early Pretenders, combined with traces of moody and artful P.J. Harvey, they reclaim the almost déclassé genre of alternative rock and free it from inert, humdrum shoegazing clichés. Instead of producing aimless and airbrushed rock ’n’ roll, they offer up churning, unfussy, and highly rated fare.

On their debut album Little Heaven Big Sky, their most propulsive tunes like “Open Your Eyes sound awash in 1990s Steve Albini production: thickly mustered drums, crunchy and curdling guitars, and an overall heavy vibe that manifests shadowy unease. “I can’t play this game / Do what you have to do”, singer Sarah Hirsch intones, unleashing conceits festering like open wounds. “Such a Tease” unfurls at the same speed, evoking naivety and uncertainty in plaintive strokes reminiscent of the Breeders and Throwing Muses. “This behavior could get you top shelf”, the narrator muses in tough irony that makes a listener wince. The disgust is plain as day, but wrapped in nuggets of tunefulness.

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Monday, Dec 19, 2011
Although Demolished Thoughts was released before the announcement of the breakup of Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, it is unavoidably a document of this personal and professional transition.

Most albums require a significant amount of time to pass—a year, five years, a decade—before a new perspective can be reached in regards to their value and meaning after initial release. This tacit rule doesn’t hold true with Thurston Moore’s recent solo album Demolished Thoughts (Matador, 2011). The announcement of the marital split between Moore and Kim Gordon, both founding members of Sonic Youth, came as a surprise to many fans, given the sense of stability and definition their marriage had provided for the band. Indeed, this background sense of domesticity offset their avant-garde reputation without compromising it, giving their listeners something to relate to even if Gordon and Moore largely avoided it as a topic up for public discussion. Hence, the unexpected feeling of personal loss held by many with the swift reports that unfolded on that Friday in October. This album is unavoidably a document of this personal and professional transition.

Demolished Thoughts was released in May, and in truth, I first listened to it for free on NPR Music. This small detail says a lot about the album and the place that Moore (who is 53) has arrived at in his career. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Sonic Youth, a band established amid the No Wave scene in New York City during the early 1980s, but one which—given its longevity and influence—has been seen at the intersection of a number of other trends, before and since. Over countless releases for a variety of major and obscure labels, Moore (guitar), Gordon (bass, guitar), Lee Ranaldo (guitar), and Steve Shelley (drums, since 1985) prefigured and aided the mainstreaming of alternative/indie rock with recordings that tested the limits of songcraft through heavy distortion, length, and, in concert, sheer volume. Daydream Nation, their double LP from 1988, is often viewed as their masterpiece—it’s included in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress—but their persistent output and experimentation since then has demonstrated a deeper ambition than simply receiving critical acclaim. Their work has questioned the possibilities of meaningful endurance in a genre that has typically depended on brevity in stylistic and even professional terms.

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