Fucked Up
Year of the Pig (2008 Matador EP)
Matador Records

Over the course of a year, Fucked Up’s more epic than epic, 18 minute, political, progressive punk statement, “Year of the Pig” has gone from a give ’em credit for their ambition type of song to one of the essential songs of this decade, worthy of the expanded reissue treatment provided by Matador’s recent Year of the Pig EP. Here, all 18 minutes of the original “Year of the Pig” are included along with three 7″ edits and four b-sides. With a track order following a single, b-side, single, b-side pattern, each edit becomes a reprise, reminding the listener of the intense experience contained within the original. Aside from “The Black Hats,” which continues furthers the ferocity of the uncut single, the b-sides are far less violent. Thank god, ’cause should you put yourself in the middle of “Year of the Pig,” as I did, you’ll need the break. Remember, there’s three reprises, so numbers like “Anorak City,” a playful romp through surf punk (albeit one with tough as nails vocals), provide a much needed respite.

Consider this your warning: “Year of the Pig” follows the lives of Canadian sex workers, and is likely leave you cold, numb, and totally f’n impressed. Tempo and tension both play an important role in relaying the gravity of the situation. It begins as an ominous, broken, and desperate crawl of piano accompanied by a cocky, all too confident bass line, as the vocals alternate between sweet and innocent, and spine-shaking and violent. As the pace quickens, the music morphs into a hardcore stomp in building its first crescendo. Imagine the scene: The pants come down. The heart quickens. We’re getting to the in-out, in-out part and it’s going to be wonderful, or something like that. Stop! There is no stop. There’s no not tonight, and there is no, no. There’s gonna be some in-and-out and then there’s gonna be a beat down, and tomorrow it’s gonna happen all over again. Now, that old fashioned stomp morphs into krautrock, and then again to Motorhead styled metal, and at fifteen minutes we’re back to shame and desperation. What an intense message. What masterful musicianship. “Year of the Pig” is not unchecked ambition. No, it’s one of the most impressive pieces of music you’ll ever hear.

Year of the Pig by Fucked Up: 9 out of 10 on The Rockometer

Preteen Weaponry

What’s a band like Oneida to do after 10 years of cutting edge, experimental Rock ‘N’ Roll, and not being able to register more than a blip on the ever-crowded Brooklyn scene? Release a triple album, of course. Preteen Weaponry is part one of a planned three album set (the second of which is due out early 09), and unlike most triple albums, there are no epic struggles of good versus evil and no pinball prodigies. There aren’t any complicated story lines with heroes, villains, and allegorical themes. Just 40 minutes of instrumental rock.

Part 1 is a percussive, psychedelic work out built with repetitious melodies of keys and guitars, overlapping one another, sitting atop a thick haze of ambient noise. Around the nine minute mark, an acoustic guitar becomes audible, accentuating a series of slow, simple four note movements, each stretched over two measures. While Part 2 takes its cues from modern drone, as something akin to a foghorn filtered through an effects pedal bellows and booms unpredictably over a steady, ominous beat. It’s not until the sixth minute of the second movement that any vocals appear, and they’re processed so heavily it’s difficult to make out any words. Lastly, after another seamless transition, Part 3 finds Oneida dealing in space rock and kraut rock, with elements of spectral dub added to the mix. Again, repetition plays a key role as the band layer their melodies on a base of white noise.

Needless to say, Preteen Weaponry isn’t for those with short attention spans, and it’s not likely to provide Oneida their shot at the big time and propel them top of the blog charts. It won’t result in their music being used in a slick car commercial, and it won’t fill their bathtub with stacks of the man’s money. What it will do is cement their reputation as one of the most adventurous bands in the underground psych/noise/whatever-you-call-it-is-what-Oneida-do scene, and for a band like Oneida, that’s far more important than hearing their music in a Cadillac ad.

Preteen Weaponry by Oneida: 7 out of 10 on The Rockometer

Dr. Dog
Park The Van

Dr Dog tackle the subject of fate on their fifth album. Its quite the heavy subject matter for a band whose best moments are light, loose and carefree. Granted, not all fate has to be heavy. There’s good fate. Like the day you were stuck in traffic on the way home from work, got off the freeway, decided to buy a couple scratchies, won $200, went to the strip club, found out you and your entertainer had a lot in common (You both liked to party, who knew?), found out her friend liked to party, too, ended up back at your apartment with both entertainers, woke up the next morning without your pants and two women in your bed, called off work because you just had the best night of your life, and watched tv in your boxers after the ladies left, only to find out that there was an office shooting at your work. Ok, maybe that kind of fate never happens, still, there’s a lot of sad man blues and lonely, laments (“Army of Ancients,” “The Ark,” “From” and “The Beach”) on this record, tipping the balance of fate in the woe is me direction, and not enough jams like “The Old Days,” “The Rabbit, The Bat, and The Reindeer” and “My Friends” where Dr. Dog lay off the weight long enough to revel in the glee of old time melodies.

MP3: Dr Dog – The Old Days
MP3: Dr Dog – The Ark
YOUTUBE: Dr Dog – Hang On

Fate by Dr. Dog: 6 out of 10 on The Rockometer

Sic Alps

With a rickety ramble, tamble and the steady hiss of an old analog recorder, Sic Alps have done to psychedelic rock what fellow lo-fi adherents, Times New Viking, did to indie pop — that is they stripped it of its natural shine, deconstructed the parts worth saving, and in the process found obscure melodies dying to get out.

US EZ is actually the second album released by Sic Alps this summer. The first one, A Long Way Around to a Shortcut, collected many of their hard to find singles and EPS, and was organized in reverse chronological order. This unique running order served them quite well, as it provided the listener with a real sense of where they band have been (shrieking experiments in formless noise) and where their going with their newfound appreciation of pop. On numbers like “Everywhere, There” “Gelly Roll Gum Drop,” and “Mater” from US EZ, the duo of Mike Donovan and Matt Hartman have moved even further toward the pop side of psychedelic rock, recalling a young, prolific Brian Jonestown Massacre.

Some may scoff that Sic Alps are just another lo-fi band, propped up by the critics, and lament the fact they rely on intentionally poor recording techniques to hide their melodies, and when the band do indulge their inner noise freaks, as they do on “N##J,” they’re certainly providing a wide opening for their detractors. Let them scoff, I say. Despite the recent praise heaped upon bands like Times New Viking and No Age, lo-fi was never intended as a style to be consumed by the masses. It has its ready made defense in red recording levels and tape hiss, meant to keep the popists safely at bay.

US EZ by Sic Alps: 7 out of 10 on The Rockometer

Oxford Collapse
Sub Pop

Now this is Indie Rock. Oxford Collapse is a scrappy three piece of guitar, bass, and drums, whose music relies on verse chorus verse structures, imperfect harmonies, and ragged melodies. Who needs friends with theremins and violins when you can shout out such jagged glory?

The obvious comparison for Oxford Collapse’s Bits is Mac McCaughan and his much revered band, Superchunk. Lead single “Birthday Wars” rushes with the energy of a room full of four year olds, short attention spans and all, and buzzes like an early Superchunk single where McCaughan had to scream just to get his voice heard over the guitar.

Bits isn’t all about loud guitars and shouting. Any number of tracks including “Young Love Delivers,” “Featherbeds,” and “Children’s Crusade” would have worked just as well if they were less frantic and if the choruses were sung on key and not shouted. But what’s the fun in that? Since when did indie rock have to be obvious? Oh, I know the answer to that one and it involves a certain band, The Shins, and a certain movie quote about The Shins changing your life. Call it a personal preference, but I’ll trade the perfect pop song for an imperfect one with passion and energy any day.

And about those violins? “A Wedding” does have a string section, no guitars or drums, just a small string sections and the same singing/shouting style. It provides a nice break in the middle of the album.

YOUTUBE: Oxford Collapse – The Birthday Wars

Bits by Oxford Collapse: 7 out of 10 on The Rockometer

Julie Ocean
Long Gone and Nearly There
Transit of Venu s

Now, this is Indie Rock, too. Julie Ocean’s Long Gone and Nearly There plays like the Promise Ring’s underappreciated, power pop classic, Everything is Wrong, with any number of tracks suitable for inclusion on Rhino’s out of print Nineties power pop anthology, Poptopia, along side other long forgotten names like Gigolo Aunts, Velocity Girl, and The Greenberry Woods. There’s the jangly guitars, an abundance of oohs, aahs, and whoos, and concise solos that hit at just the right moment. Not surprisingly, the members of Julie Ocean are all veterans of the Nineties indie rock scene, with guitarist/vocalist Jim Spellman spending time in the aforementioned Velocity Girl.

Admittedly, there’s a temptation to label Long Gone and Nearly There as a period piece, a relic of college rock gone by, as their style of sped up power pop isn’t exactly in vogue these days. Consequently, its a relatively safe assumption to say their target audience skews toward the over 30 crowd. Yet, to make these assumptions would be a mistake. Even if not every number on Long Gone and Nearly Out is as memorable as lead single, “Number 1 Song,” there’s plenty of simple pleasures to be found in its 30 minutes, and plenty of opportunities to ooh and aaah along.

YOUTUBE: Julie Ocean – Ten Lonely Words

Long Gone and Nearly There by Julie Ocean: 6 out of 10 on The Rockometer

David Vandervelde
Waiting For the Sunrise
Secretly Canadian

David Vandervelde’s Waiting For the Sunrise brings back memories of Seals and Croft, Loggins and Messina, The Captain and Tenile, The Carpenters, and James Taylor. The year is 1987 and I’m in the dentist’s office, reclined in the comfy chair, as the dental assistant assaults my teeth and gum line with the hook. As if the smooth sounds of the Seventies could dull the pain. I’m cursing my mother for taking me to the dentist, again. Wasn’t it only six months ago when I was in this very same seat, listening to the same god-awful music? Doesn’t this radio have any other stations? Do we really need the hook?

Obviously David Vandervelde doesn’t have the same aversion to the smooth singer songwriters of the Seventies, else, he wouldn’t have recorded an album’s worth of tracks mining their solid gold sounds. A double shot of novacain isn’t enough to dull the pain from tracks like the sappy, “I’ll Be Fine.” To make matters worse, when Vandervelde is at his smoothest, and sappiest, as on “Someone Like You,” “Need for Now,” and “Lyin’ in Bed,” he breaks the six minute mark on each and every one of them. If there’s anything worse than bad Seventies songwriters, it’s bad Seventies songwriters who write really long songs.

To be fair, Waiting for the Sunrise isn’t all bad. “Hit The Road,” plays like an old tear jerker, but is drenched in re-verb and echo, and features one bad a** guitar solo where you can’t tell if the tape is running forwards, backwards, or both ways. And “California Breezes” is a palpable approximation of sunny West Coast jams, a la The Eagles. Still, at the end of the disc, one is left to wonder what happened to the songwriter who hit all the right notes on his debut? What happened to Bowie, Bolan, and Lennon. Did Aunt Mary sneak into his apartment late at night and replace all those evil Rock ‘N’ Roll records with crates of sentimental schmaltz? One can only hope David Vandervelde finds his old collection of records in Aunt Mary’s basement before she has a chance to burm them all.

Waiting for the Sunrise by David Vandervelde: 4 out of 10 on The Rockometer