The Swan King – Last So Long (War Crime Recordings, 03 June 2014)
Jar’d Loose – Turns 13 (CD/digital on The Path Less Traveled Records; vinyl on Threshold of Pain Records, 27 May 2014)
For those keeping track at home — yeah, this is the fifth article I’m publishing, as well as the seventh and eighth albums I’m reviewing, this week. That’s got to be some kind of a record. If I can keep up this level of productivity, it’ll only take me about two whole years to get caught up with all the stuff I want to write about. IF bands would just stop releasing new stuff during that time. Which is about as likely to happen as me being able to continue writing and publishing stuff at this current rate.
Oh well, here are two albums I’d like to share with you that were released within the past two weeks, by two different bands from Chicago, who have been travelling together on a mini-tour for about the past week or so, including a stop in Pittsburgh tonight (Saturday, 07 June – more info here) before heading back home to the windy city for a joint record release show tomorrow night (more info here)…
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The Swan King, formed in 2009 and named for the Bavarian King Ludwig II, consists of guitarist/vocalist Dallas Thomas, who has been a member of instrumental post-metal powerhouse Pelican for the past couple years; as well as former bassist for post-hardcore band Planes Mistaken for Stars Jamie Drier, and drummer Zafar Musharraf. Their second album Last So Long, recorded by Sanford Parker of Minsk/Corrections House, was released this past Tuesday (03 June) via Parker‘s label War Crime Recordings.
Despite all of that pedigree, though, to read any of the press surrounding The Swan King and their new album, the only fact you are likely to learn is their association with Pelican — regardless of Thomas‘ relatively short tenure with that band (serving as an additional live guitarist since 2010, and then appearing on their latest album, 2013’s Forever Becoming). The press releases and most of the news items or reviews that are out there make such a big deal about the two bands’ connection, you might expect this album to practically sound like Pelican with a singer. And thankfully that isn’t the case. Because we’ve already experienced that with “Final Breath,” the last song on the band’s 2009 album What We All Come to Need, which — in my opinion, but an opinion I’ve found to be shared by many Pelican fans — served as an unnecessary and perhaps ill-fitting cap on an otherwise nearly flawless record.
Instead, The Swan King sound like they’ve been influenced more by 90’s post-punk/post-hardcore than anything else. The relatively simple chord progressions, pounding rhythms, and and semi-melodic shouted vocals tend to pin them somewhere on the spectrum between noise-rock pioneers Jesus Lizard, NYHC stalwarts like Unsane, and slightly-off-kilter-yet-catchy alternative rock as typified by the criminally underrated Dig. Standout tracks include “Built to Break,” whose bassline sounds like it has been combined with a Wurlitzer-style digital pipe organ, giving a cool sound to the track overall; “The Same Result” and the title track “Last So Long,” which definitely have earwig-esque catchy melodies.
Listen to Last So Long on Bandcamp:
Then buy a copy here.
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A fixture of the Chicago scene since 2011, Jar’d Loose is fronted by Eddie Gobbo (known in his hometown for booking shows under the name Unholy Empire), and also includes siblings Pete and Eva Bialecki (guitar and bass, respectively) and drummer Phil Hardman. This band has also just released their second album, Turns 13 (mastered by Today is the Day‘s Steve Austin), on the 27th of May, via The Path Less Traveled with a vinyl version courtesy of Threshold of Pain, the label recently started by Matt Darcy of Nefarious Realm.
I happened to catch these folks when they played in Pittsburgh in January 2013, and I remember them putting on an interesting and energetic show — as well as being very nice people offstage — but to be honest the most memorable thing about them was one of the t-shirts they offered for sale (and of course I had to buy one of them!): the front features a doobie-smoking goat head superimposed upside-down on a pentagram (actually, click here to see the same shirt, worn by Enabler drummer Ryan Steigerwald), while the back sports the message “CLICHE METAL SLOGAN. FUCK.”
In a way, those words appearing on a shirt sort of sum up the overall feeling you get from listening to this band: they’re either embracing traditional hard rock and metal stylings, or they’re poking fun at scenes and cliches in an ironic way, or maybe they’re even partly mocking themselves — or mocking those who might try to take them seriously enough to try to figure out their intent in the first place. Turns 13 feels like the sonic equivalent of a pop-art painting, where it can be hard to tell if you’re in on the joke, or if the joke is on you, or even if there is actually a joke in the first place.
Case in point: the opening track is called “The Light Took Us,” clearly with a wink and a nod to the TNBM documentary Until the Light Takes Us, but the song also carries the subtitle “Black Metal for Pussies” — which could make sense as a silly description of the song itself, or could just as easily be part of an inside joke that sort of goes over the listeners’ heads. Because most of the rest of the album uses a comparable amount of aggression and harshness as that opening track does — and indeed Gobbo‘s vocals maintain a sort of hoarse rasp throughout all of the songs.
Blending equal parts groove metal and post-grunge, with little hints of guitar parts and vocals in the background that evoke thoughts of early 90s alt/noise a la Dinosaur Jr., probably the best way to define Jar’d Loose (if I had to sum it up in one word) would be ‘eccentric’. Especially with a song from (apparently) the point of view of a cigarette (“Summer of Lung”); one about feeling empty inside, using the metaphor of a dead body that’s been picked clean of everything except the bones (“Carrion Guy”); a reference to being cast aside like a chewed-up piece of gum that’s lost its flavor (“Adult Prom”); and finally, what I believe to be a scathing tirade to a customer from an employee in a craft/sewing supply store (“Yarn Store”) — which includes the brilliant lines “I know your girlfriend / she’s a puppet / and she talks shit when / you stick your hand up her.” Above all else, with this band you should always expect the unexpected.
Check out Turns 13 at Bandcamp:
And get your copy here.
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