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It’s hard to find fault with the underground credentials of Vancouver-based punks The WPP. Vocal duties osciallate between all four members, who all play instruments as well, smashing any notions of rock deityhood. To top it off, their most recent album, He Has the Technology, was written in an actual basement and put out by the obscure Hollywood label Satellite City. Punk rock, indeed.
The band has opened for the likes of Fugazi, Blood Brothers and Les Savy Fav, and while listening to the album it seems as though those more renowned bands may have lent the WPP more than guitar picks and groupies. But even with such a pedigree, the ironic demeanor and chronically short attention span of He Has the Technology may leave some listeners hoping for a more mature sophomore LP.
The song titles on the album encompass the full range of wordwankery, from tonguetwisters like “She Swam To Sweden” to the vaguely tautological “I Was Raised A Gunfighter By A Family Of Gunfighters.” The standout track in terms of titular pretension has to be the opener, which has been dubbed with the Dillinger Four-esque whopper “Let’s See A Little Less Standing Around And A Little More Jumping Out Of Cakes.” This trend would be tolerable, and even amusing, if it was restricted to the track names, but similar immaturity can be traced running through the lyrics and song structures of the album. Exciting musical ideas are toyed with on some of the songs, but the lack of balance can make for frustrating listening. “Seriously, Get A Towel” features a deadpan recitation of dinosaur names and a sophomoric title. Even “Satan Says,” one of the album’s highlights, manages to sound paradoxically similar to that haunting song from Home Alone sloppily sung in a round by a hardcore audience, fists pumping up toward an ornate Christmas tree on stage.
Though He has the Technology is woefully inconsistent and often painfully tongue-in-cheek (the cell-phone ring on “Bikini Infinity ‘The Epic Journey To The Mother Land’” is intolerable), repeated plays reveal an inner core of solid song writing and sincere emotion under the ADDcore finish. Although the band will undoubtedly benefit from a more introspective focus, there are points on the album where all that seems to matter (to paraphrase a series of punk legends before them) is that the WPP are young, loud and Canadian.
—Will B. Payne
How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb
U2’s relevance may never diminish. We all gave up somewhere around Achtung Baby, when the group’s drastic immersion into 90’s alternative failed to collapse as drastically as we wanted it to, given the band’s self-righteousness and potential for pretension by the 80s’ close. The cycle repeated, though, and we kept watching through the relative failures of experimental albums Zooropa and Pop, and as the band won back their audience of baby boomers and their kids with the sappy balladry of 2000’s All that You Can’t Leave Behind. The problem, then, was that people bought it, and bought it big. How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, and its accompanying ipod-spearheaded media blitz, bring another question: the band may have undisputed relevance, but aren’t we going to get sick of this at some point?
The album is vintage U2, for better or worse. The band has consistently built on the sound of each successive album, and moments on How To Dismantle... recall every previous release. The ubiquitous lead single “Vertigo” is another safe anthem following the tried and true formula of “Beautiful Day,” “A Man and a Woman” instantly recalls the icy chords of “The Unforgettable Fire,” and the pounding chords of closer “Yahweh” recall War’s faith-related last track “40.” The band covers the full range of their sound, from Bono-centric acoustic numbers (“One Step Closer”) to lengthy and reflective epics (“Miracle Drug”) to the aforementioned rave-up single, which is one of only two songs under four minutes long.
The album suffers from over-writing and over-conceptualizing—U2 has too much to say these days to fit their ideas into concise songs, and thus these songs lose the urgency that characterized U2’s early sound in their sprawling nature. The other persisting problem on the album is the even further emerging figure of Bono. With his personal celebrity aside, he is increasingly becoming the central musical figure of the band, with his vocal twists and turns of phrase more memorable than any guitar hook or bassline, recalling the later albums of another band fronted by a singly-named poster boy—the Police.
This is not to say that the songwriting is not at times excellent; the band has perfected and patented the formula for a good U2 song, and they show themselves in command of this on How to Dismantle... The songs are individually-wrapped candies that offer a familiar but fulfilling sensation with an ignorable degree of retread. It is short on innovation but immediately appealing in its familiarity, which is enough for now. But it means fans are still waiting for their third wave of reinvention and relevance.
The Tigers Have Spoken
Something about the unadulterated energy and joy of live recordings always appeals to me. Maybe it’s the interaction between performer and audience, or just the unfinished tonal dynamics that make the recording seem so much more authentic in this Pro Tools-obsessed age, but some of the most revered albums of this century have been live performances: for example, The Who’s Live at Leeds or The Allman Brothers quintessential Live at the Fillmore East. Following in this storied tradition is Neko Case’s latest release, The Tigers Have Spoken, an album that manages to be quite captivating even given its paltry length. Case, also the singer for the renowned indie band The New Pornographers, had not released an album since Blacklisted in 2002. This is also her first album on the Anti label, following her departure from Bloodshot Records.
Case and her entourage—consisting of über-competent Canadian surf-psychedelic-country rock band The Sadies (who just released their debut Favourite Colours), brilliant pedal steel guitarist John Rauhouse and vocalists Carolyn Mark and Kelly Hogan—take on several different styles in this remarkably diverse collection. The opening track “If You Knew” features bold vocals over an Ennio Morricone-esque groove that is augmented by Rauhouse’s tremendous feel and copious amounts of reverb and tremolo. “Hex” has more of an old-time high lonesome country groove thanks largely to the dobro playing but also to the acoustic guitar strumming that complements Case’s slightly sweetened vocal stylings. Finally, Case delivers a tremendous Grace Slick impression on “Blacklisted,” a dire-sounding mid-tempo piece.
The songs shine: despite slightly subpar sound quality—the guitars are a little jangly and inaudible at times (check out the horribly articulated guitar solo on the upbeat “Loretta”), the bass sometimes drops out of the mix and the drums sound a little bit mechanic—the vocals are transcendent throughout. Case has a talented for shifting her highly recognizable vocal chops to match different feels; the record never feels stagnant, although I do wish it were slightly longer so that the musicians could stretch out a little more. There are far too many really atmospheric moments that never stretch past a few bars and far too many songs that don’t make it past the three minute mark.
Part of the appeal of live albums is that they often showcase musicians cutting loose, jamming a bit and taking risks that they might not take in the studio. The Sadies and Rauhouse all have terrific feeling and a great sense of the music; their playing is always tasteful, but they never really get to experiment. Still, this is a really great album, which is made all the more personal and engaging by the inter-song banter, applause and Southern-tinged “Thank you’s.” The conversational highlight comes, of course, at the end of the performance when Case suggests “feeding children to tigers [since] there are so many extra children.” Now what studio album would end with that?
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