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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Punk Planet Reviewer Spotlights Part 2

from Punk Planet #73
Handsome – s/t
In a time well after grunge had lost its bite and before nü-metal became moronic and contrived, anything could go in major label hard rock in 1997. Comprised of ex-members of Helmet, Quicksand, Iceburn, Murphy’s Law and Cro-Mags, Handsome had an incredible amount of potential in this vacuum. Mixing the moody, detuned heaviness of their older bands with poppy melodies, Handsome presents a band with a lot of bang. With a blow-out-your-eardrums kind of mix, Handsome sounds very modern by today’s standards. The notable exception is that instead of the standard, sing-through-the-nose vocal technique that so many bands embrace today, vocalist Jeremy Chatelain projects a clear and aggressive voice devoid of sap. Plus, thanks to Terry Date’s production, the band sounds incredibly heavy, but not sloppy, muddy or cheesy. Though the band’s career was doomed early on (various band members made no bones about not getting along with each other in interviews), they held it together long enough to make something fantastic.

from Punk Planet #74
Tripping Daisy, Jesus Hits like the Atom Bomb
There was a time in the mid-’90s when industry insiders thought Dallas was going to be the next hotbed for alternative rock in the mainstream. The Toadies, Rev. Horton Heat and Tripping Daisy had hit records on major labels, but a citywide takeover (thankfully) did not happen. Though commercially ignored in its day, Tripping Daisy’s final record for Island really stands out as a highpoint of their career. In ’99, I had the pleasure of seeing the band perform for free on a sunny spring afternoon outside at TCU. Showcasing a number of songs from Jesus Hits like the Atom Bomb and songs that would eventually make up their final, self-titled album, Tripping Daisy won me over big time. Previously, I thought they were another goofy alternative rock band with one big hit. Seeing them play in this setting with this material convinced me to at least check out their then-new album. Utilizing keyboards, trumpet and multi-part vocal harmonies, Tripping Daisy hits a number of homeruns throughout these fifteen tracks. As far as some of its relevance today, if you want to understand how Tim DeLaughter went from fuzzy guitar rock to the symphonic circus that is the Polyphonic Spree, check this one out.

from Punk Planet #75
Chomsky, Onward Quirky Soldiers
Of all the bands I followed in college, Chomsky was a Dallas-based band that had a sound that was truly sans identifiable reference points. Though you might hear slight influences like XTC and the Police in spots, Chomsky’s music had flair of eccentric originality. Though the band had a few line-ups over the years, this era of the band was them at their best. Hearing Onward Quirky Soldiers now, I’m still not exactly sure why they are so special to me. This was a band I saw at least thirty times and never got tired of them. They could be a little goofy but that never got to the point where they were cheeseheads. With their dense melody lines and solid drumbeats as their meat and potatoes, Chomsky had a special formula that worked for this album and the one before it, A Few Possible Selections for the Soundtrack of Your Life. They followed Soldiers up with Let’s Get to Second, an album that lacked the spark of yesteryear and as of this writing, the band is on indefinite hiatus. Not to sound defeated, but even if the band never reforms, at least they have two fantastic documents of this spark.

from Punk Planet #76
The Dambuilders, Against the Stars
Like a lot of records I spotlight in this space, Against the Stars is another criminally ignored album that you always see in the bargain bin. Other than some nice rotation on 120 Minutes with their “Burn This Bridge” video, Against the Stars disappeared as quickly as it arrived. I say that’s too bad because the band made a fantastic record that is smooth, catchy and rocking and is as relevant today as it was in 1997. Writing simple rock songs with nice augmentation with violin and keyboards, the Dambuilders were a band that could fit well in the Alternative Nation, but they weren’t as easy to grasp as the more teen-friendly bands were. Despite recording most of the record in drummer Kevin March’s basement, Against the Stars doesn’t sound like it was. Sure, there are moments where the guitars sound they came from a demo tape (see the chorus to “Break Up With Your Boyfriend”), but I’ve heard way worse. The Dambuilders would never make another record after this, but at least they went out with some sense of a bang with Against the Stars.

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