Music

Chiodos: Bone Palace Ballet

On their second album, Chiodos shows there might be hope for emocore after all.


Chiodos

Bone Palace Ballet

Label: Equal Vision
US Release Date: 2007-09-04
UK Release Date: 2007-10-29
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The 2007 Taste of Chaos tour will go down as easily the worst musical spectacle this writer has seen this past year, or perhaps ever. This is thanks in large part to a pair of the most inept headlining acts these eyes and ears have ever been subjected to, in the form of tiresome pop punks the Used and a mind-bogglingly embarrassing set by Jared Leto's 30 Seconds to Mars. Whether it was Bert McCracken desperately trying to appear profound during idiotic songs like "The Bird and the Worm" or "Liar Liar (Go to Hell)" or an aging Jordan Catalano prancing around the stage playing rock star while his backing band churned out generic power ballads, it made for two excruciating, interminable hours of some of the worst guitar-based rock music ever conceived.

That being said, a handful of lesser-known bands played their hearts out in the time prior to the co-headliners. Of course, by lesser-known bands, I mean bands that anyone over the age of 21 would have no idea who the hell they were, but hundreds of thousands of MySpace-ing, Facebook-ing, Oink-ing teenagers are adoring fans of. Among them was Michigan sextet Chiodos, who made full use of their half-hour time slot to elicit a reaction among the kids that McCracken and Leto could never match. While boys moshed, girls screamed, and hardcore goofballs two-stepped themselves into fits of limb-flailing ecstasy, the boys onstage tore it up with a distinct blend of emo, hardcore, and just a little hint of progressive metal.

There were churning riffs giving way to mellow piano interludes, in turn segueing into slick guitar harmonies as a skinny singer howled in a jarring falsetto. It was all as bombastic and overtly melodramatic as you'd expect from a post-hardcore band, right down to the ridiculously obtuse song titles, but at the same time, it was considerably less shallow than the majority of the similar sounding bands out there. Here was a band that appeared to have the right combination of chops and ambition, and who deserved to be headlining on this night.

While Chiodos's 2005 debut full-length All's Well That Ends Well exhibited plenty of hints of better things to come, the much bolder Bone Palace Ballet takes some big steps towards fully realizing that potential. In direct contrast to the no-frills, edgy sound of the previous album, the new record packs a less blunt, better-rounded punch courtesy of producer Casey Bates. The band was willing to soften the guitar tones and allow for atmospheric touches like synthesizer, strings, and horns. More post-hardcore bands are attempting such rich, bombastic accompaniment as they try to outdo each other in the pomposity department. Chiodos's approach is more tasteful, as songs like "Lexington (Joey Pea-Pot with a Monkey Face)" and the Weimar cabaret-tinged "Is it Progression if a Cannibal Uses a Fork?" (See, what did I tell you about their song titles?) accentuate their arrangements well enough to give it a Goth-inspired, ornate touch.

Frills aside, it's the songwriting that has improved the most, as the band sounds ready to make a similar leap to mainstream pop as My Chemical Romance pulled off two years ago. "Bulls Make Money, Bears Make Money, Pigs Get Slaughtered" combines the My Chemical Romance's dramatic song craft with the subtle eccentricity of young prog phenoms Between the Buried and Me. The tender "Intensity in Ten Cities" has smash single written all over it, a straight-up, shameless power ballad, the band totally unafraid to embrace simple pop music as the song builds to its predictable, but (c'mon, admit it) satisfying climax. Meanwhile, the pounding "I Didn't Say I was Powerful, I Said I Was a Wizard", for all its peripheral accoutrements, is well-executed emocore, while the shimmering "A Letter From Janelle" just might be the band's best moment to date, mastering the sweeping, melodic dynamics that the genre demands.

If there's a factor that will either make or break the band with new listeners, it's singer Craig Owens, who brays endlessly in a high-pitched voice that alternates between the tenderness of Delays vocalist Greg Gilbert and the squawking squeal of Hot Hot Heat's Steve Bays. It's the kind of voice that draws immediate derision from emo's detractors, but one has to at least concede that Owens effectively conveys the emotion well, even if he does come perilously close to completely going overboard with the vocal histrionics.

Although post-hardcore has become as trite, oversaturated and image-obsessed a scene as hair metal was in 1990, it's nice to hear the odd band that works the formula effectively while attempting to broaden its sound. In fact, this album is so impressive, that we can let slide an error as egregious as failing to acknowledge poets Charles Bukowski and Rod McKuen, who Owens quotes word for word on a pair of occasions (let alone the album title, which was a Bukowski book). It's a good album, but Hank would have kicked your ass for doing that, Craig.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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