Killer or Filler?
New local discs from across the musical spectrum are ripe for the picking — and picking on.
By ANTHONY MARIANI
Let’s put it this way: There’s enough happening in Fort Worth/Tarrant County’s music scene to fill two copies of this paper every week. We just don’t have the manpower, space, and chutzpah to cover it all. And I admit: We often write about semi-important bands and shows instead of the really cool ones. But what can I say? Such is the task of keeping up with a shifting, growing music community like ours. We’re pretty much at the mercy of its ebb and flow.
Well, not always. Here’s a write-up of a few new local discs — I can’t think of any other way to cover as much ground or as quickly. Cool? Cool.
Addnerim’s ‘Sheep Amidst the Wolves’
Throwback metalists Addnerim come from someplace, metaphorically speaking. Their mission evidently is to unplug all of us from the Matrix, which I don’t mind in the least, but I’ve always wondered: When does adhering to non-conformity become, y’know, conformist?
Anyway. On Sheep Amidst the Wolves, the band’s new three-song e.p., the deadly seriousness of the lyrics is ably matched by the deadly seriousness of the musicianship. You won’t have to strain to detect the influences: Tool, Tool, and Tool. They’re definitely noticeable in Addnerim’s love for that molten, minimalist rhythm that sort of staggers downhill; even more so in singer/guitarist Tyrel Choat’s voice, a protean instrument that can easily shift from trembling and distant to sturdy and in your ear — pure Maynard James Keenan. But while that crazy asshole’s on-again/off-again cult project often opts for pop over experimentalism, Addnerim isn’t afraid to mix up time signatures, hop from cool groove to cool groove, and do that start-stop-start-stop thing that a lot of other, equally muscular metal bands overuse. Sometimes I just wanna scream “Dudes! Nobody cares how much you rehearse. Maybe instead of spending three weeks synchronizing a 30-second bridge, y’all should’ve worked on better riffs, beats, and lyrics.”
Addnerim also isn’t afraid to let Choat go off. Arpeggios flutter from my man’s ax like the flight of several dozen bumblebees, and he keeps the cocksure posturing to a mature minimum. His licks are mostly tasteful.
The largely instrumental 10-minute-plus epic “Astronomy” is the track that gives him the most room to explore. He takes a few interesting detours and finds: a baritone open-E chord that rumbles like Satan’s hungry belly, Joe Satriani’s laser gun, and thick, oily, gnarly Black Sabbath riffage. The disparate parts all somehow manage to coalesce into a distinct whole. Long story short: Choat is a bad-ass.
However, there’s a small yet nagging problem: When your band is bound by allegiance to St. Steve Vai to emphasize crisp, clear virtuosity, you can’t get away with missed fills and flubbed notes. Sure, they’re nothing that a little studio wizardry couldn’t fix — and certainly nothing the average fan would notice in a live setting — but they are enough to lower the wow! quotient of your studio outing a few notches. That Wolves only makes the listener’s jaw hit the tops of his sneakers instead of the floor is totally unacceptable.
Gravity Euphonic’s ‘Gravity Euphonic’
I don’t know if it’s me or what, but sometimes I’m not quite sure whether a group is pulling my leg. Case in point: The Unwound Band, featuring Collin Herring bassist and all-around four-string master Jeremy Hull. The musicianship is straight-up, no-nonsense honkytonkin’ C&W. But the lyrics: “I miss her more than under-age drinkin’ ”? That’s funny stuff. Seriously, when the playing is stellar and the vocal delivery sounds honest, the line between sarcasm and sincerity can get pretty blurry. My two cents: Leaving a listener in an intellectual fog isn’t inherently rude, but it comes darn close.
Eric Hunter II sorta-kinda makes me feel the same way. We know the guy behind a new project called Gravity Euphonic is a serious, long-time local muso, but after listening to his debut e.p., Secret, we’d be forgiven for thinking he’s trying to screw with us.
One of those cheesy synth lines straight from New Orleans gangsta rap (circa 1998) launches the first song, “Awake,” and then a disco beat kicks in and Hunter starts singing, all high, breathy, and cranky. The juxtaposition of styles and attitudes here is jarring. The guy’s voice is kind of fey, but it’s syrupy with emotion. The uptempo beat could definitely be given a decent house re-mix, but the distorted guitars in the background seem gratuitous. Another track, “Drowning,” actually sounds like two wildly different songs mashed together as one. Are the over-emoting and over-production intentional or not? Should I be giggling or dancing — or, as with Nathan Browningham’s white-boy soul, doing both?
Gravity Euphonic does throw into relief the complexity of Nine Inch Nails-ish industrial music. It looks so easy in the hands of NIN’s Trent Reznor. But when someone like Hunter, with 1/1,000th of Reznor’s resources, tries to pull it off, doing backflips across a tightrope looks easier.
The Bible Fire’s ‘The Spread of Weakness’
Again, not sure if chuckling or dancing is appropriate here. As the primary member of The Bible Fire, Robert Halstead likes to tinker with electronic gadgets while taking all of us suckers to task for sleepwalking through life. His concern for our well-being is admirable, but at some point, a clearly talented dude like Halstead has to ask himself: Should I waste my time trying to make Casio-sounding beats intimidating? If the answer’s “yes,” then more power to him. Shee-ut, any knob-twiddler can crank up the bass to an ear-splitting decibel to create an ominous mood. Only a truly gifted artist can conjure dark, nihilistic doom from, say, a few maracas, a flute, and a ukelele.
Or from the translucent, skipping, and mechanized pops, snarls, and bleeping bloops employed here. Too bad Halstead isn’t the guy — yet. The Spread of Weakness, The Bible Fire’s five-song e.p., pits Nietzsche-sized extistential angst and (seriously or not) right-wing politics against discofied bedroom-studio wizardy. All sides end up bloodied.
Weakness does have its bright spots. The crazy-dancy “Sexual Preference” is a handy how-to for average guys who can’t get anywhere with the ladies. Halstead’s advice: Just tell ’em you’re gay, insinuate yourself into their lives (even if only for a couple of hours at the local watering hole), and then you’ll be free to make your move. “The Mutualism of Conjoined Sins” argues on behalf of polygamy — God is “down” with the singer and his three wives, and the Alpha and the Omega is “the king of fucking kings / So don’t you fuck with me.” The synthetic rocker and anti-drug rant “When You Dare” could have been written by Nancy Reagan, “Spin” is fair and balanced, and “Welcome to the Valley” — with its semi-crunk and nasally chorus — appears to be an indictment of the West’s fascination with image over substance. Alec Baldwin, be afraid. Be very afraid.
Halstead may be onto something here. Even though Fox News thumps the singer-songwriter’s Good Book 24/7, he knows that to reach the unwashed, you got to speak their language. Since religious zealotry is and has always been the biggest scourge known to man — and essentially the fount of every war, including the one now in Iraq — I sure do hope he’s joking.
Easy Jesus Coe’s ‘Texas Hold ’Em Up’
Here’s what I’m talking ’bout. Sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll. Whoo-hoo!
Easy Jesus Coe is better known as the frontman of easily the most hated band in North Texas, Pimpadelic. His solo debut, Texas Hold ’Em Down, is a clear paean to the kind of white-trash gutter-rock-rap that Kid Rock popularized 10 years ago. But who cares. Any white rapper who samples Ace Frehley’s “New York Groove” for the lead-off track, while also giving shout-outs to Night Train ($2.59 a bottle) and cocaine, is all right by me. Coe’s also got decent flow, and his voice rings a little like the late, great Eazy-mother-fucking-E (N.W.A.).
Texas Hold ’Em successfully floats a lot of references, especially to hair-metal, Southern rock, gangster movies, ’80s hits, and Cheech and Chong. On the down-tempo “Where You At,” the double-entendres of the corny chorus to Quiet Riot’s “Cum On Feel the Noize” actually come off as straight-up dirty. Granted, they’re laced with cuss words and shouted by Coe and guest rappers 100 Proof and Thyra, but still. The guitar bite on “We’re On the Hunt” bows to The Nuge, and the title track’s Motörhead sample is so poorly spliced into the mix that you can’t help but cheer Coe’s unabashed non-professionalism.
Some of the shtick is indeed funny. “Jimmy Motherfuckin’ Jam” samples the brassy theme to The NFL on Fox and sees Coe rapping in Joe Buck’s baritone sportscasting voice, and the satire of new soul called “Strange” sends up Erykah Badu and her ilk’s annoying holier-than-thou ’tude.
The album could have done without “Rich Kids,” a drawn-out apology that, in the context of Coe’s keepin’-it-real campaign, lends heart to someone who claims to not have one. In the words of Fiddy, I say, stay gangsta’d up.
Well, whaddaya know? A concept speed-metal/Broadway soundtrack album about big things like life, love, and death, and it’s neither really awful nor really confusing. On their debut full-length Autocratopolis, the three guys in Urizen seem like they might be able to beat the dudes in The Dillinger Escape Plan in a foot race. These Urizen boys play fast — like unbelievably, incredibly, breathlessly fast. Triple fills, mercurial lead lines, and riffs played on all 24 frets — Urizen does it all and well (even the slower, semi-jazzy, pianistic moments).
The band’s attack is aided by awesome c.d. packaging. A series of black-and-white photographs tells the story of a young man who enters the city, falls in love, and then leaves ... or dies ... or something.
Whatever. Autocratopolis is an epic achievement.
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