Thursday, March 13, 2003
Product of Our Environment / TKO
It isn't easy being a legit punk band these days; unlike it's equally-aged cousin, rap/hip-hop, it's still rock music played by guitars n' drums and it's far more limited in its scope. Still, you gotta give the due where it's owed-when a band stays within the parameters of the tried-and-true and wants to make it go, that's what you rate them on.
Hollywood Hate's Product of Our Environment is so much more piss-and-vinegar laden than what passes for punk these days as to be almost a bizarre parody of bilious blast-off. The good old two-step is hauled out for a flogging on most of the songs and bellowing frontman Scott Wilkins really does sound like he's spitting out carpet tacks as much as singing. Unlike most punk however, the guitars aren't a wall of mulch, there's a crispness atop the chaos, especially on the opener, the Bad Brains-ish (minus tempo changes and reggae interludes, of course), "Another Fine Mess."
But all pales compared to the title-track. None of the latter-day Brit wailers, not GBH, Exploited, Discharge, nor the bulk of their stateside competitors (too numerous to name) were ever this on-the-money. Wilkins rides the track's crest like a master surfer and the undertow, provided by the band's finest musician, drummer (and Exene look-alike) Suzy Homewrecker, is knife-sharp. If there is such a thing as "classic punk-rock", this rant stands in the pantheon and is worth the price of the disc by itself.
The Postal Service
Give Up / Sub Pop Records
Electronica meets indie-rock when Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard and IDM production guru Jimmy Tamborello (aka Dntel) collaborate on The Postal Service's debut release Give Up. Sublime vignettes of lovelorn trepidation combined with warm, melodic instrumentation make use of the two best elements of the entire collaboration: contrast and sublety. This is an album that pushes boundaries without unintentionally nudging you out of the room.
Having previously joined forces on Dntel's last album, Life Is Full Of Possibilities, the two musicians decided to extend their efforts into a full-length album not in a studio, but via mail-delivered tracks, a method that inspired their name. Tamborello created the bittersweet synths and Gibbard added the nostalgic guitars and emotive song writing, and the geographical separation isn't the least bit evident. The same sense of experimentation and playfulness that was so evident on Life Is Full Of Possibilities manifests itself again.
Although Tamborello and Gibbard gained much acclaim from the vocal-intensive track "The Dream of Evan and Chan" from Dntel's previous release, the balance of power is distributed equally on Give Up like it never was before. The wash of strings and heavenly synth tones that Tamborello brings are ultimately the highlight of the album. While the glitchy fusion of IDM cutting and discotheque boom-chikking may sound like fingernails on a chalkboard to some, it works as well as it ever will on this record. And man, can Ben Gibbard ever craft a song. Although the songs could be considered lyrically adolescent at times, the melodies are strong and the singing oftentimes stunning.
With a decidedly modern edge, The Postal Service embraces Gibbard's ungainly mix of indie sincerity admist Tamborello's transcendent dance-pop productions. It may be impressive that these songs come as the result of the dreaded collaboration-by-mail, but given the immense chemistry shared by these two musicians, it's anything but surprising.