Half Milk – Kept Mang

Half Milk - Kept Mang

Release a few singles, an EP, a full length or two and then split. That seems to be the practice with a lot of bands. Pioneers like Cap’n Jazz, American Football, Rites of Spring, and Indian Summer  and modern classics like Algernon Cadwallader, Snowing, and My Heart To Joy. All of which happen to be bands that, although great, split up after putting out a few releases. In the case of the four piece Chicago band, Half Milk, they too have followed a similar cliche. However, what sets Half Milk apart from the many is their final release, ‘Kept Mang’. Where Half Milk may have ended with a cliche, their final album is a record that is entirely their own, one that showcases an undeniable sense of precision and melody. It’s an album that keeps listeners on their toes, throwing out splintered complex guitar passages not unlike the band’s Chicago contemporaries along with jazz inspired drumming and goofy semi-poetic lyricism.

From simple punk chords to the round noodly clean tones that you might expect to here on a Don Cabellero record, most of the songs feature harsh contrasting breaks; instrumental sections that go from melodic, harmoniously and complexly entangled and without warning will transition to the off-kilter, and discordant cacophony without loosing a single moment of clarity. Sometimes it sounds as though all of the instruments are fighting for a spot to be heard over one another but yet through all of the discordance each instrument remains identifiable. One of the best examples of this comes on “Icerev Turns In His Wings”; a blistering epic that feels more like a roller coaster than a track but is nonetheless one of my favorites. Its a track that sums up the entirety of the album, it’s crazy unpredictability and all of it’s artistry at once. ‘Kept Mang’ is certainly the type of record that has all of those little moments that you revisit if only to listen specifically to just those, no matter how brief they are.

While I do appreciate the instrumental diversity that Half Milk possesses it is Spencer LaBute’s strange and often humorous lyricism that gives ‘Kept Mang’ that added sense of energy that gets this release continuous listens. If the title of the second track, “Did You Like Collapse In Grass” didn’t give you an idea of what you were in for then the abstractly hilarious lyrics surely set the tone for the entire record:

“If you’re feeling tropical / Take a ride on the pineapple birthday boat / Fire on the plate / Shrimp fried rice / Remember its warmth that night”

But its not only the work of Half Milk alone that makes this album great. Alongside Mathew Frank, whose vocals are featured on a number of tracks, Little House (aka Charlotte Lovell, also the girl on the album cover) makes an appearance on the track, “Spliff Wizzurd” where, over a mess of layered guitar noise and discordant drumming forms beat-esque poetry where she goes on in a stream of consciousness about friends she can fuck up, shitting herself, buying money, licking the cut of a sandwich’s bite because she’s dangerous, and other eyebrow-raising things. Its weird and maybe a little off-putting but theres something whimsical and also infectiously beautiful about it; maybe its the nonchalance in her voice or the way the words seem to slip casually, calmly from her mouth alongside the otherwise urgent inharmoniousness of the track that makes this so appealing.

The lyrics, much like the eclectic musicianship don’t really do the job of easing the listener into the atmosphere of the album as much as it unforgivingly dunks you in head first, without warning immersing you in what they are, expecting the listener to make sense of what they are given. In other words, I feel like this is just a record where you either dig it or you don’t; you either “get it”, or rather realize theres nothing “to get“, or you just don’t get it in the first place. Most of the time it’s difficult to imagine what the lyrics are about or whether the dudes in Half Milk even knows what they meant when they were writing them, if they even mean anything at all. To get to the point, regardless of the intent, what the lyricism achieves so well is its ability to capture the imagination and put an image or an idea in your head that keeps you wondering and of course listening. Its a trip for sure but its all in good fun.

Chaotic yet smooth, mathy, complex, emotive, passionate, twinkly; all of these descriptors could easily describe any past or upcoming band, especially Half Milk but what separates this band from any other band in this convoluted genre is that Half Milk does it with such virtuosity and character. The band has distinctly created a set of songs that speaks for itself, sometimes half-jokingly laughing at itself and other times as serious as you want it to be. Although, most of the time its hard to distinguish when to take them seriously at all. I think it is this that makes them so different for me, acknowledging when to step back and laugh at themselves, to show that a record doesn’t have to be completely serious to be heard.

While the reasons for these kinds of bands splitting up varies from band to band its clear to me that no one wants to repeat themselves. If you’ve got something great to start with why not end with it as well. As for ‘Kept Mang’, the record is certainly one that proves Half Milk started out great and, although they only put out one record, also ended with an exceptional release at that.

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Overall Rating: 8.6

Favorite Tracks:  Did You Like Collapse In The Grass’, ‘Icerev Turns In His Wings’, Zeuhl Sesh (Like Drinking Ten Lightnings!), Last Halloween: Wish Upon A Fecostar, Kentucky Blue Gravity

Recommended: Check out Algernon Cadwallader

Released: January 2013

Links: Download the album or pick up a tape here

-Tyler Thompson

Old Wounds – From Where We Came Is Where We’ll Rest

Old Wounds - From Where We Came Is Where We'll Rest

‘From Where We Came Is Where We’ll Rest’ is the new LP from New Jersey post-hardcore band Old Wounds. After a number of EPs their latest takes from that of their earlier material and amplifies it to an alarmingly intense extreme.

On ‘From Where We Came Is Where We’ll Rest’ the band thrusts themselves into a nightmarish and brutal intrusion on hardcore music. Other than being absolutely punishing in nearly every aspect the band also presents an impressive repertoire of instrumental technicality that rivals that of other notable bands of their ilk, namely modern legends like Converge and Dillenger Escape Plan as well as newer acts like Gaza, Caust, and Code Orange Kids.

While influences are pretty obvious and Old Wounds may add  little in the way of progressing past the boundaries or furthering the development of the genre’s sound they still manage to put on one hell of an entertaining listen with this new album.

Throughout these 12 tracks the band keeps at a maddeningly fast pace, never sacrificing any of their energy and when the band does slow down it still manages to sound just as dense. On the fourth track Old Wounds sound at their most prime, cramming a ton of variation into a single track which, without warning, transitions from thrashy Converge-esque riffs and melodic guitar harmonies and into grinding discordant mayhem before breaking out into a spacey segue à la Dillinger Escape Plan. It is this that makes makes Old Wounds stand out from similar acts; the band’s ability to come through with a a solid combination of metal and hardcore that not only sounds modern but, whether intentional or not, reaches out to past generations of both respective genres which makes for a refreshing listen that I think fans of a more traditional sounds may even be able to enjoy.

The lyrics are nothing new in terms of what has already been offered by their contemporaries. Lyrical themes tend to be on the topic of disappointment, failure, and overcoming obstacles among other genre specific clichés.  This likely won’t be too much of a bother for anyone who is just casually listening considering most of the vocals are obscured with screams, shouts, or generally lost in waves of ear bleeding instrumentation but for a genre where concepts and and themes play a large roll in the music itself those who pay more attention may raise an eyebrow when on the track ‘Bitter Days’ the vocalists shouts “how can you justify when the life you live is the biggest lie” and “this is the end of everything you love”.

While the band does lack in certain areas, Old Wounds makes up in the amount of diversity they achieve. From nauseatingly fast head rushes of grinding guitars and blasting drums to a snails pace in the filthy doom-inducing track that is ‘Void’ and the absolutely filthy bass heavy track that is ‘Unspoken’ the band shows plenty of variety.

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Overall Rating: 6.7

Favorite Tracks: ‘Shallow Water’, ‘Born To Mourn’, ‘New Fortunes’

Recommended: Caust, Gaza, and Code Orange Kids, (maybe some Slayer too).

Released: 26 February 2013

Links:

Stream ‘Where We Came Is Where We’ll Rest’ via soundcloud here.

You can purchase the album here.

-Tyler Thompson

Swan of Tuonela – Swan of Tuonela

Swan of Tuonela - Swan of Tuonela

On the Richmond, VA band’s debut self titled, Swan of Tuonela showcases a liking for contrasting dynamics and tension within their songs. Although the group isn’t shy about their post-rock leanings, a sound that has become something of a staple within the likes of the various strains of hardcore music of today Swans of Tuonela are no strangers to aggressive music. Members of the band include previous and current members of other notable acts within the area such as Caust, Halcyon, and Dial Up; bands that press for more confrontational extremes such as powerviolence and grindcore, all of which serve as obvious influences on this debut which translate quite clearly within their sound.

The band plays with building song structures that progress into explosive, bombastic bursts of noisy, sloppy screamo. What separates Swans of Tuonela from the  masses of other post-rock influence screamo bands from around the area and otherwise is their extremely intense and chaotic songwriting abilities. While this post-rock inspired formula works for Swans of Tuonela the influx of band’s using a similar formula should be a sign to change direction which seems to have been taken into consideration seeing as there are moments where the band does change pace. For example, the four minute opening track, ‘Inanimate / Tolerance’ provides a dwelling sense of tension that grows into a heavier piece where it ends and is quickly picked up by the explosive ‘Quiver’, an impersonal and nightmarish track that manages to cram a good amount of progression and diversity into the brevity of its minute and a half duration.

While there are moments of these cascading walls of reverberated guitar the band juxtaposes it with crushing low-end chords and intensely moving sections of powerviolence inspired chaos that makes for some really nice contrast and moments of spine tingling bliss. Over the course of the fifteen minutes that is this self titled, Swans of Tuonela present a great combination of moody atmospheric passages that act as brief sections of breathing room while at once maintaining the listeners attention thrusting one quickly back into the throes of tortured screams, dissonant noise ridden guitar, thick sludgy bass, and jarringly fast drumming.

For me, while I do, at times find myself completely enthralled in what the Swan’s of Tuonela offers I also find myself wishing there was something more. I can’t help but think that what I’m listening to is the sound of a band with an exceptional amount of energy, passion, and potential, a band that could do something entirely different but has, like so many other bands fighting to break through from the now static narrative that much of hardcore music has formulaically imprisoned itself within, settled for a sound that was, at one point in time different but has ultimately grown into the stale norm.

Overall Rating: 5.8

Favorite Tracks: Quiver, Chrysalis

Recommended: Caust, Halcyon, Kilgore Trout, Dial Up, and The Pessimist Hangs the Optimist

Released: 30 January 2013

Links: Stream or purchase the cassete here.

-Tyler Thompson

Q&A Interview with Heccra: Beginnings, Pizza Is Emo, and Beyond

When people think about the post-hardcore and emo music of today I think, almost universally, a few names come to mind. Specifically names affiliated with the previous decade, that of the saturated bubblegum-variety that is Silverstein, Attack! Attack!, and Asking Alexandria whose style of music botchedly embraced pop, EDM, and dance influences into a most distasteful amalgamation of cliches and then the post-hardcore of more recent times, the likes of which meld a sense of accessibility with a taste for both melody and aggression, bands of the more recent variety, those of which include, most popularly, Touche Amore, La-Dispute, and Title Fight.

Heccra, the enigmatic-one man experimental post-hardcore / emo project fits into neither of those categories, or really any past incarnation of punk music as a whole. Instead, since early 2o12, Heccra has been keeping busy, releasing a full length album and an EP last year as well as two EPs within the first half of 2013 which take from a number of genres, the likes of which are contextually dissected and reconstructed into a unique blend that is all his own.

Pizza Is Emo album artwork.

Pizza Is Emo album artwork.

(Tyler Thompson): Your debut album, ‘White Eagle’ kind of came out of nowhere and just blew up overnight on /mu/ (a music message board on 4chan). What led you to start writing and recording the album?

There was a May night when I was 18 years old, as I was leaving a bonfire with friends I got pulled out of my car at gunpoint by the police; some adolescent neighborhood kids had called the cops saying I was unloading stock piles of automatic weapons, but it was actually firewood for the bonfire. I laid on my stomach with my hands cuffed behind my back, my friend Justin was next to me in the same predicament. The cops searched my car, found no firearms and continued to harass me saying my firewood looked “suspicious.” I ended up getting a ticket anyway for disorderly conduct and had to make a court appearance.

This is what really ignited my rage. In high school I had been skating in the hallways and getting in a lot of trouble, wearing tight black jeans and shoplifting excessively. My friends and I started vandalizing our town late at night as a means to make the best of being high school graduates stuck home. All of my friends went off to college at the end of summer, I stayed behind and worked at a shitty seafood restaurant and went to a community college full of fuck-ups and losers. Loneliness tortured me. I was already in bad shape from 6 years of 4chan in my head. I would go on to have 10 more run ins with the cops that academic year, each one pissed me off more and more. I paid for the tickets with money I made from work.

At Work, there was a coverband that played at the bar every Friday and Saturday night. I heard the same set too many times, and I was frustrated and I said to myself “I’m never going to fucking repeat myself, ever.” I was recording some music under the name Spooky Kid’s Midnight Symphony, I made 5 songs, the later 3 were ‘Brain Damage is my Friend’, ‘Best Dreams Ever’, and ‘1997: There’s no Future!’ When I first said “Heccra” I was awe struck, and it looked good to me too when I wrote it out. I told one of my friends that God named me Heccra. I decided to create an identity that was truly I and my honest feelings, and I would keep my real name off the project entirely. It was great, I could say everything I wanted to and no one judged me. The winter trudged by and my friends came home for Break. They were adjusted to a life of college drinking and I wasn’t. There was still vandalism, pointed out in ‘VHS Porn’, and when they left I was sad again. I burned bridges with most of the people left in town. By April I had 10 songs or so, with nothing to do with them. One evening I posted it on 4chan.

On ‘White Eagle’ the chipmunk-esque pitch-shifted vocals (i.e. chipmunk-core) that appear throughout the album are a characteristic that seems to have become synonymous with your project. I think it’s a production choice that can effectively attract listeners just as quickly as it can detract them.  Was this an entirely conscious decision to include these pitch-shifted sections or was this something you did on a whim?

At the time, I was trying to make something very experimental that wasn’t just noises or in dissonant chords/scales. I had a few different kinds of high-end Waves pitch plugins which I had experimented with in the past. The real inspiration came from Ween’s Pure Guava album, where most of the vocals on the album were recorded tape shifted. Push th’ Little Daisies was the song that really pushed me over the edge to do this. I’ll admit I went overboard with ‘Best Dreams Ever’.

After ‘White Eagle’ you released two EPs, the first of which was ‘The Last Weekend of Summer’ (TLWOS), an approach that focused more on the style of midwestern emo while the second EP, ‘Heccra-Kazooie’ retained traits heard on ‘The Last Weekend of Summer’ but also featured a bit more of an aggressive edge all around. I remember you mentioned that you had been listening to Algernon Cadwallader a lot and were influenced by them. What else influenced this change in direction?

I tend to think of ‘White Eagle’ as my best album, but that was written and recorded when I was very outwardly angry with society, and still fresh with rage. Even though it’s been a short while, I’ve matured greatly, and during this, the other two EPs were recorded. ‘TLWOS’ is all about the girl I was dating at the time. The name itself is a reference to the last two days of summer before I left for college this year. The theme of the music shifted from anger to hopefulness, that I would have the patience and strength to stay with this girl, even though I was far way.

While I was at college, my recording equipment was inaccessible so I had to learn to adapt to not being able to record everything I came up with. I started by getting a notepad and wrote down every little bit of lyrical inspiration that came to me. When I got back for Christmas break, I tried to balance family, friends, a girlfriend, and an album all at the same time. My girlfriend and I decided to break up 2 weeks into my 4 week break, and shockingly, I didn’t find it very inspirational musically. I had always figured I would have an entire emo album just from that alone, but it didn’t cut me the way I had expected. All of this went into ‘Heccra-Kazooie’, which was by far the most awkward for me to record. I had intended to go back to my aggressive ‘White Eagle’ roots.

When you released ‘Heccra-Kazooie’ it was also accompanied with a statement in which you mentioned your disappointment with the album. What exactly was it that you were disappointed with?

It has basically nothing to do with Banjo Kazooie whatsoever, that’s a big one. But even bigger is how shitty I mixed it. It’s exhausting to listen to, it’s over focused. My good friend Bye./Aches was telling me how the lack of clarity of my first two albums (compared to ‘Heccra-Kazooie’) made it better, the obscuration adds depth and dimension. ‘Heccra-Kazooie’ is two dimensional all the way.

That being said, I really like ‘Banjo Kazooie’, ‘Homemade Halloween Costume’, ‘Pissed Off Kid’s in the 90’s’, and ‘I Wanna Go On a Ski Trip with The Beach Boys’, they’re just really bright and it hurts my ears to listen to them. Also, ‘Heccra-Kazooie’ flopped and got almost no attention from the internet.

Are there any plans for a follow up to ‘Heccra-Kazooie’?

I’ve thought about a ‘Heccra-Tooie’, to redeem myself. But if I do, it has to be a “Quick! Get on the toad there’s no time to explain” kind of album, and I want it to grab you by the hand and rip you though a life or death adventure with Heccra though a Nintendo64 Banjo Kazooie world.

In terms of production, the albums you’ve recorded sound pretty professional.  When I first heard ‘White Eagle’ I thought it was the work of an entire band so, needless to say, I was a bit surprised to learn that the project is solely that of one person. Getting down to the bare skeleton of Heccra, what kind of gear do you use when recording?

I’m a bedroom artist. I only own one microphone, and it’s a Shure sm57. That runs into a MOTU 8pre firewire interface, and then into an unreliable joke of a workstation, 5 year old HP Pavilion laptop that shits out on me and blue screens at least twice per session. I honestly spend close to 6 hours per cumulative sum of album recording time troubleshooting my computer.

My guitar amp is a Marshall MG HDFX100, I also have a boss C1S1 compressor sustainer pedal that I use to get more punch out of the amp, because by itself the distortion sounds really cheesy. I use a big mountain of pillows as isolation.

I have two main guitars, one is a blue quilted maple BC Rich Bich, which alludes to my adolescent obsession with 80’s hair metal, and the other guitar is a stock black Greg Bennett Interceptor. They were both stock pickups, until Heccra-Kazooie, I bought EMG active pickups. I also own a BC Rich Bass guitar, an Oscar Schmidt ukulele, and a 5 dollar vuvuzela that appears in ‘A.M’. and ‘I Only Wanted To Heelflip’.

Could you briefly run me through the writing and recording process?

Briefly is not easy, since this process is dear to me. I generally go on long bike rides or walks by the river, through local forests, urban decay and whatnot. I pick up a sense of adventure and a sense of loneliness, as well as some imagined sense of fraternity with my foliaged surroundings for being the only kid ballsy enough to folly around in it. Together it’s like a deep yearning, a desperation for a life of more adventure; ‘White Eagle’. I get very bittersweet things, taking in the “what once was,” and imagine the history of the place or thing. I’d like to believe this bittersweetness carries over into my music.

I write down every little bit of lyrical inspiration I get in a journal. It comes to me sentence by sentence, and eventually I string them all together. If any has noticed the stich marks in my music, it’s because it’s sewn together, take shitty water for example. I play guitar in the hours east of midnight, and experiment with different tunings and time signatures. I often find riffs and chords during this time that my lyrics fit over. Most of the time, they’re I-IV riffs.

My music is guitar driven, that is the instrument I have the most prowess in (eventually I’ll upload a shred video to YouTube) I set my microphone position up and do a few tests, and then bury it in pillows and blankets so I can record it loud. I usually lay down some drums, really basic kick snare stuff with a metronome, and then record guitars for the entire song. I remind myself while recording to really play it, not just play it, but to have my emotions in it and my entire soul behind it. Even so, there are lots of songs I wish I recorded faster than I did. When I play live, it’s going to be a blisteringly fast. I go back after the guitars are all finalized and match the drum tracks to the rhythm and swing of the guitar. After that I usually do all the screaming vocal takes, and next the singing. I often lose my voice after the backing vocals are done. I record bass strangely last, and then mix.

Although accessible, Heccra is a project that is at once overtly experimental, uniting a wide variety of outside styles from a multitude of genres, seamlessly weaving hazy of shoegaze, EDM, pop, ambient guitar interludes, triggered drums, colorful glitched out electronics, and even dabs of 80’s new-wave-esque synthesizers within the contexts of post-hardcore music. Are there any particular influences beyond the umbrella of hardcore music that you take inspiration from?

Well just barely outside that umbrella, crust punk and grindcore are two things I really enjoy and value. I love the snarl and scoop of the guitar, firecracker snare, and the vocal texture. The overall sonic texture is delicious. Together it’s an energy that’s amazing. I have particularly taken influences from Wormrot, Dropdead, and Insect Warfare. I enjoy sludge metal, but I’m a real pleb there, I never ventured much further than Electric Wizard, Sleep, and SunnO))). I’m a big fan of Ween’s music, particularly the ‘Mollusks’, ‘Quebec’ and ‘Pure Guava’. Wavves is obviously an influence of mine, Life Sux! Best Coast is also worth mentioning. The Beach Boys are too legendary of a group to put in the same sentence as Best Coast, but they are an eternal influence on me. I spent the first 4 years of my recording career chasing the 80’s. I love the Shooga Dooga toms, the snare, the gated reverb, shiny spandex and unaccompanied dragged on guitar solos. I can’t forget emo, god do I love me some twinkle daddy. Of emo, Algernon Cadwallader, Cap’n Jazz, American Football, and Bye./Aches are my biggest influences.

Is the inclusion of all of these different styles intentional or is it more the work of your subconscious acting?

I do try to consciously incorporate them into my music, but whether I like it or not some of it gets incorporated into the song writing, that’s when I notice the Beach Boys the most. I never try to make a certain kind of music. I try to convert visual images and feelings in my head into sounds. I think I can only make one kind of music, and these influences just twist and pull it all in different ways.

The infamous album artwork for 'White Eagle"

The infamous album artwork for ‘White Eagle”

There seems to be a lot of focus, from fans and admittedly myself, on the artwork used as the album cover for ‘White Eagle’, the iconic and surreal image of a nude woman holding a rabbit, centered in front of a grassy background. Care to comment on the nature of this photo?

I was mesmerized by it. I posted my soundcloud on /mu/ exactly a year ago asking for criticism and used that as the picture just to get attention. It got a pretty good reception and posters were asking for a mediafire link, so on a whim I put that picture as the album artwork, because I couldn’t send White Eagle out without something as its artwork.

I get a decent amount of crap for having stolen the photograph and using it without permission, but maybe one day I’ll apologize to the photographer and get to meet the model. I know that without the cover, White Eagle wouldn’t have gotten noticed anywhere as near as much as it did.

Some of the track titles, lyrics, artwork and the overall image that you present with Heccra have these occasional moments of subtle humor. Would you say that, when writing, this humor is intentional or am I just an asshole?

Not taking yourself seriously is one of the best things you can do as an emo band. I can understand it being seen as subtle humor, but I never tried to be funny. It’s more of nostalgia for me, back to my childhood, and back to the melodrama of highschool, and familiarity and comfort of sadness and teenage heartbreak/hopelessness. I felt trapped in my town growing up, and if you couldn’t laugh at yourself then you’d best be fucked because there was nowhere else to go.

What do you do in your free time, when you aren’t writing music as Heccra?

I’m a Mechanical Engineering undergraduate in college, which takes up most of my free time. I shred on the guitar daily. Heccra skates, skates skateboards that is. I am a bodybuilder, living for squats and oats and spending all my college tuition money on food and eating everything in sight. I have a kind of Flylo knock off side project that I don’t take very seriously, gives me something to do when I’m feeling musical. About once a month I get a weekend open enough that I go out to house parties and dance my ass off in the basement to Top 40 crap. It’s important to smile the whole time.

The one-year birthday of Heccra is coming up and you’ve got a new EP coming out entitled ‘Pizza Is Emo’, what can listeners expect to hear?

There are only two tracks on it, but that’s amazing for spring break. Listeners can expect to hear Heccra-in-a-box. It’s got flanged synths, overdriven chords, group vocals, screams, a breakdown, experimental guitar tones, REAL DRUMS, bubbles, Sweeps, a vuvuzela cameo, 7/4th timing, spooky tritones, ominous breathing, distorted sludge bass, ukulele, surfer blood ripoff song, pitch shifted vocals, lush harmonies, tempo changes, Emo sing alongs, Rick Astley’s Shooga-Dooga Toms, and a bunch of wrists getting cut around a pizza.

What do plans look like for the future, specifically for 2013?

This summer I’m going to New Jersey to record with Aches, we will be making an Emo EP or something like it, and I think that’s going to be one of the most fun times of my life. Once School is out, I’ll be able to focus more on promoting myself and interacting on /mu/ and soundcloud, to connect with other musicians and establish my identity as a helpful musician and not just a samefagger.  Ideally, a bunch of fantastic musicians could come my way and we would all get dressed up in Halloween costumes and play a few shows.

I had plans to record another album this summer, whether it be Heccra-tooie or just something else, I’m not sure. I’m going to keep experimenting with music, I don’t really see any other option. I either keep experimenting, or grow stagnant and die.

Listen to the new EP, Pizza Is Emo

You can download Heccra’s current discography on bandcamp

All inquiries can be email here: Heccra@gmail.com

Stream content from Heccra via Soundcloud

Follow Heccra on Twitter

-Tyler Thompson

Kilgore Trout – The Golden Altar / The Black Hourglass

The Golden Altar / The Black Hourglass

On Kilgore Trout’s first release they debuted with the ferocious combination of screamo and raw metallic noise that was their split / collaborative EP with False Flag. At the time it seemed like a strange but intriguing coming together of sounds but in retrospect I can’t help but think that this relationship between noise and punk has been one in the works since the early days of punk music. If anything, noise music of today is, in my mind  not only the precursor to punk but also the genre’s successor in that it has lived up to and moved past everything the genre has attempted to do. After all, pioneers of the genre, bands like Orchid, Pg. 99, and Jeromes Dream weren’t strangers to implementing progressive ideas into their music, specifically that of noise music and the avant-garde. With that said, it was no surprise to me when Loma Prieta released their pummeling Deathwish release, ‘I.V.’, last year which was also an album that pushed the genre to its loudest extremes while remaining true to traditional screamo and post-hardcore. While these newer hardcore acts are collectively seeking a louder and more intense degree of sound Kilgore Trout is a band that does it in their own way.

On the band’s second release, ‘The Golden Altar / The Black Hourglass’, Kilgore Trout returns with a maddeningly noisy off-shot of screamo. While the band continues to explore their noisier tendencies they have also expanded their style to include short passages of dark and brooding, droning guitar ambience, namely on the track ‘(II) Dead of Night’, the second part of an epic three part song that closes the album, which sounds much like something you would hear on a City of Caterpillar release.

The band proves that things can escalate quickly, going from subdued, moody ambience to a torrent of aggressiveness, a blaze of drums, grinding guitars, and vocals so raw that it could fit perfectly in the catalogue of some black metal cassette distro. These last three tracks are a nice tryptic to end the album to, a series of songs that essentially sums up Kilgore Trout’s sound. The first part, ‘(I) Regression’ is a building track that breaks out into a storm of hellishness, while the second part, as previously mention acts as a haunting interlude, accentuating the group’s attention to atmosphere that finally concludes with the third act in the series, ‘(III) In/Finite’, a track of pure hate-filled powerviolence and a stellar way to end an album.

Although I enjoyed the band’s split with False Flag, I found the production to be lacking. At times, the instrumentation sounded muddy, swallowed in all of the noise. With this new album, this isn’t so much of a problem, not necessarily because the recording sounds better per se but more so because the band has refined their sound. Although refined, that isn’t to say that the band has done away with these sections of noise ridden abrasion in their entirety but that they have accommodated their playing style to incorporate these noisier sections more appropriately into their music.

In conclusion, ‘The Golden Altar / The Black Hourglass’ is an album that shows the diversity that Kilgore Trout possesses as a band, a band that is moving toward a more refined destination, one that doesn’t surrender their ear for creating absolutely punishing music but also doesn’t take many risks or move into uncomfortable territory either.

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Overall Rating: 6.2

Favorite Tracks: ‘Roads’ and ‘(III) In/Finite’

Recommended: The Pessimist Hangs the Optimist, Swan of Tuonela, and Caust

Released: 01 January 2013

Links: Like the band on Facebook

-Tyler Thompson

Heccra – Heccra​-​Kazooie

Heccra - Heccra-Kazooie

With every new year comes a catalogue of great music, yet I always find that I am surprised by a few releases, either from musicians I am already familiar with or at least aware of and sometimes from a few entirely new acts but rarely does a project seemingly materialize out of nowhere and really grab me quite like the one man experimental post-hardcore project, Heccra did when it released the out-of-the-blue debut, ‘White Eagle’. After the stunning short-but-sweet debut Heccra went beyond expectations with a solid follow-up EP, ‘The Last Weekend of Summer’. Both albums were well received and gained the project a growing following in a matter of a few months. The project made a name for itself for its short to-the-point songs packed with an energetic presence and a combination of daringly unorthodox production choices along the likes of triggered drums, bubbly synths, glitchy bits of electronics, and the projects signature chipmunk-esque vocals, all of which are a combination of things that shouldn’t work but in Heccra’s case couldn’t have work more perfectly. Earlier on in the winter it was announced that the project had began recording for an upcoming full length; ‘Heccra-Kazooie’ being the result of those sessions.

If you are unfamiliar with video game culture, or more likely, you had a miserable childhood the title, ‘Heccra-Kazooie’ takes its name from the classic Nintendo 64 game, Banjo Kazooie, in which themes from the game are lightly applied to the music, mostly in the form of a few samples.

Where ‘White Eagle’ was an album that focused on the harsher aspects of post-hardcore and ‘The Last Weekend of Summer’ showed Heccra transitioning  to a midwestern influenced sound, inspired by bands such as Algernon Cadwallader, it appears that this latest effort attempts to fuse the two contrasting styles together in a way that only Heccra can, with catchy songs and glistening glitched-out electronics that will have you re-listening to the album like a playlist of top 40 tracks (that’s a good thing). The album’s opener, a track that is brimming with flavorful synths and an anthemic chorus practically begs for repeated listens while the melodic roller-coaster that is ‘Homemade Halloween Costume’ make it difficult to not want to listen over and over just to let the weaving guitars wrap themselves around your ears.

With ‘Heccra-Kazooie’ there are plenty of notable stylistic changes to be heard, particularly toward the end of the album with the last two tracks, ‘Smelling the Vents with the AC On’ and ‘Life Sux Pt.2’, those of which are completely clean tracks that discard the thick scooped distortion and replace the aforementioned with gently strummed acoustics and sung vocals. For me, it isn’t really a favored changed but it is certainly one that I welcome, as with all forms of experimentation. Although this new set of tracks is yet another in a series of Heccra’s constant search for a style of his own the project still retains the familiarity of previous works. If you’re here for the more abrasive side of Heccra’s music you’ll be happy to know that there are a few tracks, namely ‘Corium Leak’ and the end half of ‘Pissed Off Kids in the 90’s’ that go back to the teeth-gnashing screams set alongside the helium induced Alvin in the Chipmunk style vocals that gained the project it’s attention from the beginning.

While this new release still sounds just as fun and fueled as the project’s past work, ‘Heccra-Kazooie’ is an album that sounds just short of finished. The few samples that make an appearance don’t add to the music as much as they detract and while it is nice to hear all of this variation, this new set of songs doesn’t feel like as much of an adventure as the name of the album alludes to.  For new listeners I recommend either starting with ‘White Eagle’ or ‘The Last Weekend of Summer’ but for those who have been listening this album is still a decent collection of tracks that continue to take a stab at breaking up the convoluted state of post-hardcore music as it is today.

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Overall Rating: 7.0

Favorite Tracks: ‘Banjo-Kazooie’, ‘Corium Leak’, ‘Homemade Halloween Costume;

Recommended: Check out Algernon Cadwallader

Released: 02 January 2013

Links: Hear it here.

-Tyler Thompson

Solomon Solomon – Lent, or, ink on

During the summer, Studying released their first full length LP along with a statement that it would be their final release and that the band was breaking up. Members of Studying would continue to make music either with existing projects such as Caust (see my review of ‘Mass Graves’) and Perfect Future or go on to record as new projects like ‘Kaworu Nagisa’. Member Ted Gordon played in Solomon Solomon, a four-piece hardcore / screamo band from Annandale, VA during Studying’s rather short-lived lifespan. The band first caught my attention with the release of a three track demo album in 2011 but other than that they have remained relatively stagnent until the compilation release, ‘Lent, or, ink on’, an album collecting the few songs they wrote while they were together which was followed by the announcement of the band’s breakup.

Although a fan of many screamo / emotive hardcore bands, primarily ones from the late 90’s to the early 00’s many of the more recent incarnations of the genre just haven’t done much for me. It isn’t so much a problem with what the music sounds like, I do have a large soft spot for the more aggressive strains of hardcore music but rather that many of these bands end up coming off as lackluster clones or watered down versions of what some of the earlier bands, ones that helped shape the genre into what it has become today, bands such as Orchid, Pg.99, and Saetia, along with what many others did when the scene was at its peak. With rising bands like Pianos Become The Teeth and legendary early 00’s band Circle Take The Square putting out new material the genre is seeing a revival as a new wave of hardcore begins to take shape. As I said before, this new wave didn’t really have the same impact on me as it did the first time around but there are the few bands that do stick out and make a sturdy place for themselves, one of those bands is Solomon Solomon.

On the demo release the band exhibited their style of hardcore music infused with the instrumental dynamics found in many post-rock structured songs drawing comparisons to early 00’s screamo bands like Circle Takes The Square and namely City of Caterpillar whose brooding lengthy songs, songs that are winding, building, cathartic, and climactic became traits that took from the more obvious cliches of post-rock and applied them to their bone breaking compositions, a defining aspect of their brand of screamo that made them unique. The band was one of the first and most successful within the genre to begin taking influence from post-rock music and applying it to hardcore in this way which as of late has kind of become a growing trend in hardcore and screamo music. Like Studying the band does well in finding an even mixture between the twinkling tremolos and the signature quite / loud crescendo structured sound of post-rock while keeping ties with their punk roots although unlike Studying this projects leans a bit more toward the loud stylings of punk music. The three tracks heard on the demo release left an impression on me for their energy and some of the standout climactic moments, in particular on the closing track ‘Philia’, a track that builds to a climax for the 11 minutes that the tracks lasts showcasing the band’s ambitious songwriting abilities. The three songs heard on the demo see an appearance as reworked tracks on this full length compilation along with the addition of three never before released tracks.

Seeing as this is a compilation I was pleasantly surprised to find that this collection of tracks keep with a consistent sound which does nicely in making this release sound not so much like what it actually is, a collection of songs but rather a fully realized album. The energy that I liked so much when listening to the band’s demo is ever present if not even more so than it was. Where the three previously release demo tracks did give off this anthemic experience I found that they did lack the overall cinematic experience that the songs hinted at separately; I didn’t find that it worked as well as a whole. Thankfully, ‘Lent, or, ink, on’ addresses this issue as the album opens with a brief vocal sample that soon leads into some spastic instrumental work. I really appreciate the variation heard here which becomes an standout characteristic as the track eventually works itself into a clean section of weaving guitar work before picking back up, followed by some hair raising vocals. Throughout the entirety of the album Solomon Solomon combines energy with melodic and varied passages of strong instrumental work.

On Solomon Solomon’s 2011 demo I noted the track ‘Philia’ as my favorite on the album with it’s powerfully digry builds, blisteringly emotive screams, and thunderous drum fills it was an undeniably standout track amongst a set of two other already solid pieces. Although still remaining one of my favorite tracks I actually prefer the demo version of the ‘Philia’ rather than the version heard on this compilation. While the other two tracks featured on the demo do make an appearance on this release and do differ from their demo counterparts the differences on ‘Philia’ leave me feeling hot and cold. While the production sounds better in some areas, especially on the sample which features the famous speech from the film ‘The Network”, essentially the backbone of this track some other aspects of the production feel lacking, specifically the drums. On the demo version of the song the drums were thunderous, in particular toward the end of the track where everything climaxes but on this version it just doesn’t feel as powerful.

It is disappointing to see this project end like it did but ‘Lent, or, ink on’ does a good job of tying up loose ends and finally allowing listeners to hear a complete idea of what Solomon Solomon was. If you’re into early screamo this project pays respect to familiar sounds without sounding like just another clone; a reminder that this genre is very much alive even if the projects within it aren’t.

Overall Rating: 7.7

Favorites Tracks: ‘A Being Creates Itself’, ‘Through The Gaze of Looking In’, ‘Philia’

Recommended: Studying, Caust, City of Caterpillar

Released: 30 July 2012

Links: Listen here.

Tyler Thompson