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The Old Haunts – Poisonous Times

June 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Kill Rock Stars, 2008

I had heard the excellent song “By the Bay” on the Old Haunts’ debut record and thought they showed promise as an kind of neurotic rock band, though when I heard the rest of the record I was kind of turned off by neurosis overload.  So I took a break.  Not long ago this killer, film noir cover beckoned me to give them another try.  I’m not sure what sailboat sails have to do with anything, but the gloominess got me thinking that these guys might have put out a good one.

The Old Haunts specialize in a kind of garage rock, yet make aims to sound much more creative than the typical garage band.  Think of them as a group that can reveal their raw edges while dabbling with musical intricacies found in many of the more precocious indie bands of today.  That’s not to say these guys are unbearably modern and routine, for they mix up their approach often enough to make a spin through of this record rather interesting.  Rather, the Old Haunts seem to step up from where the old White Stripes left off and can be considered as a small piece of evolution from the garage rock genre.

For me, the make or break aspect of any indie band can be the vocalist.  Craig Extine’s voice reminds me of the vocals of Isaac Brock from Modest Mouse, so if you don’t mind a little grumbling haywire then you might appreciate Extine’s approach.  However, if you want some of that smooth, pretty stuff then Extine will upset you.  Thankfully the band holds up some interest in the music department, even if it can vary widely between a catchy pop sequence in “Volatile” or a more scattered (if not drunken) presentation in “Sister City”.  The best song on the record could be “Hurricane Eyes” which has a truly engaging, quick-paced riff throughout the song while Extine keeps his vocal fluctuations in control for the most part.  His emotional escalation during the chorus when he describes someone’s turbulent yet thought-clearing oculars is convincing.

With such fine kicks from “Eyes” and the following track of “Ruined View”, it is a bit of a letdown when the band decides to get soft and slow in “Sunshine”.  Apparently it’s a song about Extine’s appreciation of the calming effect of weather, which I guess he just had to get out there.  The band correctly picks things up from there with the bouncing “Not Hopeless”, which has Extine sounding a lot like a strained version of the Stripes’ Jack White.  However, even after a good build up tune in “Knives On the Mind”, the last two tracks are full of sludge.  I guess there really is a point when a band doesn’t have enough energy left to pull out a few more interesting songs, for these two tunes end the record as an unexpected downer duo.

Check out the Old Haunts on their website, MySpace or Pandora station.

What I like about the Old Haunts is that their sound fits my style yet they don’t fall into predictability.  What I don’t like about the Old Haunts, I guess, is the fact that 33% of the songs on this record veered headlong towards too much quiet.  Granted, the Old Haunts were primarily a loud and crashing rock band a few albums ago (as evidenced by “Poison Control“), so I guess this personal ballad stuff is progress.  (shrug)  It seems that the Old Haunts are going to be around for awhile longer so if you check them out and dig their sound, I’m sure they’ll be coming by to a club by you sometime soon.  It’s a pity that Tobi Vail (Bikini Kill), the drummer on this record, is no longer with the Old Haunts after going one-and-done with them.  Time will tell if they’ve got another “Hurricane Eyes” in them without her.

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The Damn Personals – Standing Still in the USA

June 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Big Wheel Recreation, 2002

At the time of acquisition, I had vaguely heard of these guys as a pretty solid Boston rock band.  I also thought their group name was quite good, and with a scratched out writing of it above a pretty good sketch of a lion, they looked like they could bring it loud and aggressive.  Unfortunately I did not get a copy of the Japanese, extra track copy as shown in the picture, because then I’m sure I would have awarded this record as the coolest looking dollar buy I’ve ever achieved.  Nope, instead I just get a lion.  Maybe I’ll try to get my wife to add some Japanese lettering to my copy so that its look is improved.  Oh wait, she’s Korean.  Fine, Korean writing.

The Damn Personals do consistently lay out the rock ‘n roll that was subtly hinted at on their cover, but it’s not nearly as aggressive as I thought it was going to be.  Which is fine if you don’t mind solid efforts.  The introduction to “F!cking in NYC” sounds as if the band is going to take off on a rager, but instead Ken Cook’s vocals brings it down a notch by mixing his high pitch and falsetto.  The only other band that I have known to try that is the Darkness, but they made their money by being an exciting mockery to the genre.   I’m pretty sure this approach was not the Damn Personals’ intent, so it is slightly disappointing to hear the combination of music and voice here.  The song still carries well at its quick pace so it does serve its purpose as a strong opener.

The rest of the album, however, does not hold the hard rock mold so well.  The more jovial, poppier title track incorporates high pitched ‘oh OH oh’s from the other band members and the chorus, though bright, never really jacks up any kind of emotion other than patient head bobbing.  In other words, since these guys are from Boston, it is likely that the hard rockers in the crowd at a live gig would be standing rock still during this tune.  Even the quite good “Amphetamine Rifles” gets much, much too cutesy in the middle after a riveting and accelerated beginning.  Why the band chose to stick in a bluesy swing right after a minute or so of excellent burst is beyond me.  It seems like the band sometimes over-thought their compositions and should have just stuck to shorter, good songs.

The Damn Personals do manage to cull together just enough all-around energy to make the band not sound too dull in terms of rock ‘n roll.  “Back At You” saves itself from mediocrity with a pick up during the chorus, while “Models & Airplanes” manage to get it going early after a sluggish start, which thankfully never returns for the rest of the tune.  It’s this song that makes me think that the Damn Personals could have been that long standing Boston band that would always be good for a steady rock album that one could depend on for a few kicks.  However, like the Mooney Suzuki, they may have never become someone’s idea of stellar rock, pop or automatic go to band.

Despite their demise eight years ago, someone has kept their MySpace page alive so you can listen to ’em:  The Damn Personals

The Damn Personals probably should have stuck around longer in Boston after this second and last record was released in 2002, but as it is with bands they split a few years later.  It’s a pity that a pretty solid band that was together for seven years only managed two releases, but I suppose one can’t always gauge a band’s influence based on album production alone.  I’m sure they were appreciated on the scene during their time, only to be replaced by countless other rock bands trying to entertain and, ideally, make it big.  Currently, their post-mortem success is getting saved from the bin!

Categories: TheRest Tags: , , ,

Prinzhorn Dance School – S/T

June 4, 2010 Leave a comment

DFA Records, 2007

Based on my previous post about shopping by record label, I decided to heed my own advice by picking up a copy of Prinzhorn Dance School’s debut record.  It wasn’t the DFA imprint that attracted me so much as the Astralwerks one, since I have heard some pretty good stuff from that label in the past.  Therefore, when the rather bleak, black-and-white art cover and the simple, typewritten song list spoke listlessly to me, I thought it might be a halfway decent subtle, experimental electronic record.  Little did I know that I would be subjecting myself in a record label’s attempt to branch out … (sigh)

Prinzhorn Dance School are a husband and wife duo that have put together a very stripped down effort.  On most songs, a bass is often used as the introduction to songs while drums eventually rap about without much flair.  Ultimately, the main sound coming out of this band are the vocals of Tobin Prinz and Suzi Horn.  Unlike most bands, Prinz mostly speak-sings his lyrics that lack a bit in diversity.  The first song of “Black Bunker” consistently reminds the listener that they are in the black bunker, they are in the black bunker.  Sure, there’s a couple of stanzas that illustrate someone who is seriously down on their luck, but c’mon man, how often can you drably repeat the title of the song?  Thirteen times in three minutes, apparently.

Some songs do have a little bit of a groove that one can get caught up in if they’re not too dragged out by the singing.  “You Are the Space Invader” actually puts together a rather rousing scene near the end of the song with a spiraling guitar solo that overpowers the sinister bass and drum combination.  “Eat, Sleep”, while consisting of primarily the phrase “eat and sleep”, uses that strong bass to guide some lighter guitar dabbling.  However, aside from some interestingly crafted songs with minimal instrumentation, one can get rather bored with having to hear Prinz flatly speaking his lines while Horn yells periodically behind him.  Unlike an earlier Liars, who also employ an unique approach to their music, Prinzhorn Dance School don’t bother to energize or drown out their off-kilter lyrics.  They are, in a sense, similar to Beat Happening with their simplicity.  However, they do seem to know how to play their instruments, so Calvin Johnson and crew won’t be sensing a BH rip off anywhere here.

I haven’t found too much of their music online, but of course, there’s always the slew of videos on their website:  Prinzhorn Dance School

The band includes the inscription “This record has been made to be played loud.” at the end of their liner notes.  I have gone back and forth wondering if this was meant as a joke or if the band truly believes that their sparse approach really has a quiet power behind it that, of course, should be escalated with volume.  On one hand I like the basslines that the band employs, however, I dislike the focus on two vocalists that are rather lacking in appeal.  Therefore, since I figured this really was going to be some kind of electro-groove effort, I’ve gotta call this one a bust.  It’s possible that, if the band puts out another record with a little more behind it, Prinzhorn Dance School could turn into an intriguing band that doesn’ t rely on overwhelming sound.  Until then, these guys will remain merely as a British concoction that mostly seems to fit in with the art crowd.