Thursday, May 29, 2008

Gospel - The Moon is a Dead World

gospel at a firehall in altoona, pa
Gospel will always remain in my head as the best example of hardcore I've ever seen expressed live. When I walked into the firehall where they played in Altoona, Pennsylvania, the four members of the band looked like they belonged in an Andrew W.K. video. When they came through my town with Hot Cross, I immediately decided to go to the show after I heard a couple of things. One, that their debut record "The Moon is a Dead World" was produced by Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou. Two, that said album was going to be released by Level Plane records who at the time had put out a fury of really, really great material. Gospel was certainly poised to be quite the enjoyable show from my viewpoint, but I didn't expect anything close to what I heard when I actually got to the venue. Comparatively there are two big things Gospel seem to have a love for; Yes and mid-90s screamo. Vocally clear indications that Gospel is following in the steps of Northeast bands like Shotmaker or Three Penny Opera. But, instrumentally the band produces a bizarre form of progressive rock with 12-string guitars, synths, and an extremely impressive drummer. Every member of the band is extremely skilled, but the drummer really is the force which helps blend songs like "Golden Dawn" into gigantic progressive anthems eased by the prowess involved in their numerous rhythm shifts. Gospel's music is heavy, dense, and technical but most of all it's emotionally aggressive, something that makes the band have a timeless appeal.

gospel's 'the moon is a dead world'
As I said before "The Moon is A Dead World" was produced by Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou. Ballou has a production sound which is known for giving a raw aggressive edge to already extremely aggressive music. Clearly the production is extremely important to an album that is as textural as this one and the way Ballou makes this band sound is nothing short of amazing. It is lo-fi prog. rock which sounds like it would never work, but ends up marvelously. Touching back on "Golden Dawn" most bands that have lengthy songs tend to using ambience or slower softer sections to help ease the listener through the song, "Golden Dawn" is heavy the entire way through. By heavy though I'm not implying the singer is screaming the entire time or that guitar solos are just extending to nowhere. "Golden Dawn" is heavy because of its sense of urgency, a constantly plodding track that seems like it is constantly building itself for a bigger and better moment. It's bittersweet with emotion and it seems at any moment it could just collapse into an incomprehensible mess of noise. Somehow the track never does though; right as you expect it to collapse, it just ascends back into the original riff that started the song off, aided by a subtle synth part. The track is desolate and seems to represent some kind of poetic description of the apocalypse both lyrically and musically.

"and its only just a matter of time
before we all gotta go underground.
and for whats its worth
they ain't got no drugs down there."

"Paper Tigon" and "And Redemption Fills the Emptiest of Hearts" follow with a less progressive tone, touching more in a post-hardcore realm. "Paper Tigon" is highlighted by a guitar solo that occurs around 2:23. It's further embellished when the synth line plays the exact same progression that the guitar was playing and it builds the album back to the tense nature that we felt during "Golden Dawn". "And Redemption Fills the Emptiest of Hearts" starts off very frantic, but during its bridge breaks into a very melodic and slow paced guitar solo that is a side of Gospel we have not seen up until this point on the record. It helps shift the mood into a more ethereal instrumentally soft atmosphere. Preparing us for the instrumental "Opium" which somewhat acts as a break in the madness that we've heard so far. "What Means of Witchery" starts off with one of the most stereotypical emo build-ups ever. Gospel is clearly wearing the influence of City of Caterpillar and Funeral Diner during the first few minutes of the track. I'm not saying that this makes the introduction to the track bad; it’s probably one of the most well composed portions of the record. What Gospel does with the build up is even more impressive though. While you would expect an explosion of aggression after the build-up it never comes, the drums are pounding, the guitars are drifting and when that point of urgency finally arrives everything goes silent except for a simple drum fill. The track then bursts into what can only be describe as psychedelic. It is probably one of the most interesting and original things I've ever heard on a hardcore record and definitely one of the key points on "The Moon is a Dead World". Screams fly everywhere and more metallic riffing emerges after the psychedelic guitar part helps remind the listener that this is one hell of a heavy band. The song consummates by returning to the original psychedelic line and slowly fading out. The final track "As Far As You Can Throw Me" seems to be the most personal track. It is a dizzying mostly synth based track that seems to work the drummer to his brink. The song certainly brings the record to a close with a very melancholy feel.

"so let's hold this close
and we'll fall back to whats ours
i've got enough pills
to last us both a couple of hours
and we'll count our stars it won't come to soon."

Around the time I picked this record up I made some claim about it being comparable to City of Caterpillar's debut. A record that wouldn't be realized as the classic it was until much later in the future. Well, one thing that certainly evokes City of Caterpillar did happen to Gospel, they broke up after only releasing one album. This has certainly impacted the legacy the group and this does seem like a little known classic. I consider it a perfect record and a bizarrely progressive sound that probably will never have any peers to it’s depressingly, intense sound.

"and so i push y'all away
and i wish you a fast recovery.
all the time wishing clots upon your heart."

gospel playing 'golden dawn'

i've included a live recording of the 24 minute instrumental track these guys were kicking around in late '06 and the cassette tape these guys released that is basically a live set. the gospel/kodan armada split is the only other thing i know that they recorded and if anyone is interested i can throw that up also.

Gospel - Lived (2004)
Gospel - The Moon is a Dead World (2005)
Gospel - The Magic Volume of Dark Matter (2006)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Off Minor / Killie - Split

off minor australian tour flier.
Off Minor's latest 'world tour' should be seen as an impressive feat for such a relatively unknown band. prominently known as half of the former emo juggernaut Saetia, Off Minor are certainly more mature and sophisticated when compared to their deceased counterpart Hot Cross. noted descriptions of their sound usually fall in the "jazz influenced hardcore" side of things with the group's sound having a large portion of instrumental prettiness. enough about what the group sounds like though, back to Off Minor's self professed "last tour". when we consider that the average age of the group is somewhere in the late twenties or early thirties it is impressive that three individuals that have been involved in hardcore for so long have not become jaded or unrelevant. Off Minor has been making some of the most provoking hardcore since their inception and their most recent output released during the Japanese portion of their world tour is simply just more proof of their success.

off minor / killie split
the Off Minor / Killie split presents the listener with two excellent examples of how far the emo scene has come since just 2000. Off Minor places two previously released tracks with one new one from their "Some Blood" sessions. Killie keeps their side very compressed with one short track and one very lengthy one. "Some Clown" which previously was released on the Off Minor / My Disco split is probably the groups best song to date. definitive in its interplay between manic drumming, beautifully tempered guitar, and pulsing bass Off Minor is able to craft a gorgeous mixture of chaos and cool. where Off Minor's previous records seemed to deal with a good portion of self depreciation (especially 'The Heat Death of the Universe' which will be discussed later.) the songs present on this split seem to be a bit more politically conscious. 'Abbatoir' is a short explosion of vegan knowledge, a haiku on the criminality of how people are willing to treat other people, animals, etc. Jamie Behar guitarist and lead vocalist asks;

'when will the world see things this way?
perverse perspectives still pervade.

we're left cold by blood that's lost.

it cries out from the ground.'

falling back into their usual topics Off Minor ends their half of the record with 'Everything Explicit' which deals with the issue of how to resolve something with someone who you no long talk to. the track is notable for its sonic relation to the early post-hardcore scene evoking a Fugazi, Drive Like Jehu, or Unwound comparison. although none of those bands could ever craft anything as melodically beautiful as the bridge in the track. to discuss Killie their half of the record seems to evoke a cross between Envy and Daitro. not something entirely original, but as a counterpoint to the Off Minor sound it works well to have such an aggressively sincere band bounce off the more artsy composed New York group.

continuing with the over arching Off Minor theme of this post i must discuss 'The Heat Death of the Universe'. this record was probably my first exposure to the emo sound and i really haven't found anything i think really compares to it. the sonic and lyrical content is unrivaled in aggressive music and everything about it is just perfect. Off Minor's skill, originality, and vast appreciation of various genres help their expressions reflect technical prowess, as well as allow them to be an emotional outlet. the dynamic buildups and crescendos found on this album are prefect sonic reinterpretations of the bipolar nature of the overlying concept of the album. it is perhaps telling that Off Minor have never been as calm or as resolute in terms of their approach to creating music since the making of this album. songs like "Monday Morning Quarterback" toss and turn through beautiful near jazz style arrangements into some of the most aggressive and abrasive hardcore ever released. the untraditional approach taken to their respective instruments helps Off Minor output the same type of cathartic release normally found in only hardcore and transpose it into fully instrumental pieces that don't mock the current post-rock trend of build-up and release, but instead dredge into elastics and personal realms of musical exploration. Off Minor's music is not able to be expressed as "epic" at any point of "The Heat Death Of the Universe" because it is always collapsing in on itself to represent something much more selfish and single minded; its band members own experiences.

off minor's 'the heat death of the universe'
lyrically "The Heat Death of the Universe" speaks in a style of poignant haikus. 'Staring Down the Barrel of Limited Options' openly addresses the issue of suicide;

'facing this inevitably,
that i could never begin to understand.

what is it you see staring down the barrel of limited options?
what goes through your mind as you make the decision to end all decisions?

never say everything will be ok.'

the theme is prevalent all over the record with the second track 'This is a Hostage Situation" dealing with the neediness of people. the hatred of people that unconditionally attach themselves to things that are simply not everlasting.

'this hand on this gun to my head is my own and these are my demands:
if you leave me, take me with you, i am nothing without you.

people who need people are the wretchedest in the world.'

an ode to individuals who find themselves solely existing for the purpose of serving their spouse or whatever form their significant other should take. 'The Heat Death of the Universe' represents a philosophical journey that deals with a variety of the band's own views on everyday issues. the aggressiveness and calmness of daily life is reflected in this music and that is why it holds such an important spot in my heart. it should be considered one of the most ample examples of 21st century music. with a heart-on-the-sleeve attitude and obvious appreciation of numerous sub-genres, this album clearly represents how music has evolved, evoking the aggressive nature of '80s hardcore, the personal awareness of the '90s, and finally adopting the new method of beauty and chaos that is defining the '00s music scene. Off Minor is certainly a derivative of the things around them, but due to their members' appreciation and originality, they've been able to create a perfect emotional reflection of their feelings and that is all that this album needs to succeed.