Much of what you need to know about Rise Against can be ascertained from their name. It sounds rebellious, bordering on anarchist, from which you can infer that they are not only a punk band, but one of those punk bands that dissents from the norm through their lyrics. The title of their fourth album, 2006′s The Sufferer and the Witness, implies that the band is concerned about apathy in the world—particularly in the areas of politics and animal rights, it turns out—and the title of 2008′s Appeal to Reason is particularly crucial in understanding the band’s optimism that, given the chance, people can discern morally correct actions (and undertake them).
A band like this will likely leave the Chicago punk rock scene to record their albums in a relatively small, relaxed, liberal city like Fort Collins, Colorado. They will likely name their songs things like “Kotov Syndrome” (wherein a person will struggle to make an unclear decision, and after running low on time, will likely make a bad one), “Re-Education (Through Labor),” or “Survivor Guilt.” And they may even decide, as they do on 2011′s Endgame, to name a song “A Gentlemen’s Coup,” despite the fact that punk music is not known for its gentlemen. Their lyrics will often be written in the third person.
This is a different breed of band than most. Tim McIlrath’s indignant-yet-inspiring growls are immediately recognizable, as are the band’s polished-yet-raw guitar tones—which have remained remarkably consistent over the last decade, despite the fact that the band has a revolving door for their guitarists (now up to five).
Rise Against also seems unafraid to use pop/rock sensibilities on their songs, from the folky-singer/songwriter of “Swing Life Away” to the soaring pop melodies on 2006′s “The Good Left Undone” to the choir on “Make It Stop (September’s Children),” the most immediate of the new tracks.
Endgame takes all of these elements and mixes them together to form a reaction. Sometimes the chemical mixture is like nitroglycerine (“Architects,” which mourns the loss of youthful defiance with age), but occasionally it is as fleeting as the spume caused by mixing Diet Coke and Mentos (the boring “Wait For Me”). Most of Endgame, however, falls in the middle of these two extremes.
Rise Against are nearly always better when they have something of paramount significance to discuss through their lyrics, and Endgame is no exception. Songs like the raging “Disparity of Design” and “Satellite” would be rather lost without their cries in support of welfare and helping the poor. It’s a subject Rise Against previously tackled on 2006′s “Prayer of the Refugee,” but they confront it even more aggressively this time around.
And aggressive is wonderful for a band that can put the punch behind their names. But by the time Rise Against reach the title song and finale of Endgame, their apocalyptic lyrics like “all the shoulders on which I wish to cry are gone” are tempered by the fact that 12 songs have come and gone without a significant change in tempo, noise levels, or length (approximately 4 minutes on every song, which makes some drag on much longer than punk rock should). The choruses all explode in the same manner, and many of the tracks, like “This Is Letting Go,” are simply too careful to move from the middle of the road. Endgame would pack much more of a punch if there was some variation, some form of album-oriented crescendo.
Instead, the fist is a little more predictable than usual, and the result is proportionally less remarkable.
Album Review: Yelle – Safari Disco Club
When Yelle arrived on the scene in 2006, it was with “Je Veux Te Voir,” an attitude-packed and hilariously vulgar diss track directed toward rapper Cuizinier for his misogynistic views. The 2007 debut album, Pop Up, spawned two more minor hits with “A Cause des Garçons” and “Ce Jeu.” The French trio, led by singer Julie Budet, established themselves as purveyors of summery electropop. Then, they all but disappeared.
To a certain extent, Yelle have kept busy since their first album, remixing Katy Perry’s “Hot ‘n’ Cold” and appearing on the Kennedy track “John and Yoko,” as well as covering “Who’s That Girl?” by Robyn. However, in such a fast-paced music environment, no one can afford to take four years between albums unless the result is something that could universally be considered a masterpiece. Yelle’s sophomore release, Safari Disco Club, is a good effort that falls short of legendary status.
They’ve grown out of the youthful spirit of Pop Up, though “C’est Pas Une Vie” packs a bright punch, while “Que Veux-Tu” and “Unillusion” make good use of ’80s pop references. Songs like “Chimie Physique” and “La Musique” are much more mature in tone than anything Yelle have released before. There’s also more actual singing from Budet, rather than the sing-rapping previously employed. Safari Disco Club showcases a more developed act, but it doesn’t sound like four years’ worth of growth. The more subdued approach makes sense, but the songs aren’t as engaging as established fans might expect.
The dance scene has changed drastically since Yelle’s debut. This isn’t to say that producers GrandMarnier and Tepr should have gone for a dubstep approach—it wouldn’t suit Budet’s voice, though “S’Eteint le Soleil” has hints of grimey bass—but in an environment where the fresh-faced Londoner Katy B is poised for a takeover, it’s difficult to see where Yelle’s role is now.
The album sounds solid, with plenty of agile synths to spare, but it’s difficult to see what role it plays; it’s not exactly more of the same, but it may as well be. Safari Disco Club is worth a listen, but it fails to assert itself as something that demands listeners’ attention.
Album Review: Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record
In the five years since Canadian chamber-rock band Broken Social Scene released its last album, lead Scenester Kevin Drew has ably stepped into indie-stardom, nurturing mass-anticipation for the collective’s upcoming opus.
Enter Forgiveness Rock Record. With the Toronto outfit choosing to explore every bit of the space that their physical largesse affords, the wait has been worth it—even if the album requires a bit of stamina in order to fully grasp the triumph.
Perhaps the group—composed of a fluid membership that often numbers well into double digits—is finally becoming exactly what it is they were likely always going to be: a dramatic, sweeping and engrossing baroque-rock troupe. Besides, it’s not often that a group that has featured a melodica in the past acts as though it’s a power-pop trio, which many of their earlier songs have suggested.
While a lack of sonic cohesion does make itself evident, as the result of a mixed bag of styles that can often distract rather than attract, the significant and unifying thread of Kevin Drew’s Jeff Tweedy-esque, achy vocals equip the entire proceedings with immense heart. Some sort of binding agent is necessary, however, due to the divergent styles showcased. By showing off their skills in Post-rock (“Meet Me in the Basement”), bombastic, arena-anthems (“World Sick”), playful prog (“Chase Scene”) and effective melody making (“Texico Bitches”), it’s quite clear that this is a group that is more comfortable stretching their musical legs than the average listener will likely be sinking their teeth into this album.
Given the amount of time between records, not only is Forgiveness Rock Record an example of good things coming to those who wait, but also, to those who also don’t mind putting forth a little effort to gain great reward.
EP Review: Dan Fisk — Bruises from the Backseat
When an album’s liner notes list multiple banjo players on the same song, you know it’s going to be an enjoyable listen. Dan Fisk has two banjo pickers on“Life and Limb,” from his new solo EP, but that’s not the only thing he’s got going for him on Bruises from the Backseat (out 6/28).
Fisk (an upstate New Yorker who’s spent the past decade in Virginia), has a radio-ready, slightly raspy voice and solid songwriting skills. Album opener “A Thousand Love Songs” is the highlight of the disc, and had it been released fifteen years ago when Vertical Horizon and Matchbox 20 were flying up the charts, Fisk would probably be blowing his nose with $20 bills right now.
The EP’s sole cover is a version of Paul Simon’s “Stranded in a Limousine,” which features fellow area singer-songwriter Ted Garber on harmonica. It feels a little out of place among the more mellow tracks on the record, but it’s definitely a fun listen.
Bruises from the Backseat is a promising solo release from Fisk. Let’s hope a full-length record is next.
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