Searching for a Former Clarity
Fat Wreck Chords
Searching for a Former Clarity, the new record by the Gainseville, Fla., band, Against Me!, finds the group at their most cohesive as a unit, as well as at their most refined as songwriters.
This may be due to the fact that the majority of the songs featured on the record were written more than 18 months ago and have been road-tested several times over. In that time, the band developed the material into songs that truly featured the entire group rather than just a particular riff or melody. The most notable development in this process is the bass work of Andrew Seward, an element at the forefront of the record right alongside the guitars. The increase in low-end helps to provide a newly danceable edge to the band’s established style of melodic punk-meets-folk rock n’ roll.
The fuller sound plays as a great conduit to singer/guitarist Tom Gabel’s own frustrations with a number of topics, including the ongoing occupation of Iraq. While lashing out at the Bush administration is old hat by this point, AM! manage to freshen their approach by shifting their discontent squarely onto the shoulders of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
What they end up with is one of the better, more venomous anti-war songs of the past few years. But speed and anger isn’t the only weapon at AM!’s disposal on this record, as the band proves themselves just as poignant when the tempo slows, especially with “How Low,” their country-inspired diary of a drug addict desperately trying to turn the corner on his demons.
Against Me! are on the verge of reaping the rewards of years of constant touring, hard work and semi-anonymity. Yet, while most any band in their position would be welcoming the change and plotting a future of high-end tour buses and big paydays, AM! are taking a good hard look before they go over the edge, and they’re not necessarily liking what they see.
In response to the pressure of higher profiles, major-label attention and harsh critiques by long-time fans, the group has fired back with a record full of direct retorts played over their strongest musical effort to date.
Throughout the record, the band takes an in-depth look at the dilemma, moving in story-like fashion from sarcastically answering claims of selling-out, to disdain over the business of music. They even earnestly consider quitting altogether before ultimately settling into the idea of pushing on as a band with their clarity fully intact.
Every Time I Die
After toiling on the fringes of mega-popularity for their last two full length albums, Buffalo natives Every Time I Die seem poised to break through to just about everyone with their latest release. Unfortunately, this is by far the weakest release from a band that has always treaded on the line of mediocrity.
ETID has never been known for originality, but on their first two albums, particularly 2003’s Hot Damn!, they at least kept the music somewhat interesting and fresh by throwing in lots of tempo changes and even some slight variation stylistically. They also had a good lyricist in singer/screamer Keith Buckley. Buckley wrote things from his unique, acerbic worldview, which made for some interesting, and occasionally scathingly funny lyrics.
On Gutter Phenomenon, however, the band seems to have made regression the theme of the day. The 11 tracks speed by in a whir of sameness. Guitarists Andrew Williams and Jordan Buckley bombard the listener with the same generic southern rock riff all the way through, uninterrupted by any sorts of tempo changes. I challenge the listener to pick out a song that stands out among this bunch. Except for an appearance by Gerard Way of the omnipresent My Chemical Romance midway through, there is nothing to distinguish any song from the others.
Keith Buckley has gone to previously unknown depths on this record. His vocals sound completely computerized and will be almost unrecognizable to fans of ETID’s previous releases. He also seems to be reaching lyrically.
He tries to go out of his way to push buttons, with no particularly underlying message. Right off the bat, in the second song, “Kill the Music,” when he drops an expletive for no apparent reason, you know he is trying for something different this time around.
After this record, it will probably be hard to get away from Every Time I Die. It is just unfortunate that they don’t really have musical substance to back up the hype.
– Chuck Delross
One would be skeptical to think that Kanye West could do it again. To have a virtually flawless album the first time around and then recreate the magic is a feat rarely accomplished. But on West’s sophomore LP, Late Registration, the beautifully crafted musical composition serves as a fitting canvas on which West paints lyrical pictures.
West dabbles in some spoken word on the album. “My Way Home,” featuring legendary poet Gil Scott Heron, samples Heron’s “Home is Where the Hatred Is.” Rapper Common adds lyrical finesse to the track making it reminiscent of his comeback hit, “The Corner.” West also uses spoken word at the end of “Crack Music” capping off the highly energized song.
The politically and socially charged “Crack Music” is a highlight of the album. West raps about the spread of the crack epidemic and compares it to the power and spread of hip-hop and black music. On the song he raps, “How we stop the black panthers? Ronald Reagan cooked up an answer. You hear that, what Gil Scott was Heron hearing? When our heroes and heroines got hooked on heroin; Crack raised the murder rate in D.C. and Maryland we invested in that, it’s like we got Merrill Lynched and we been hanging from the same tree ever since. Sometimes I feel the music is the only medicine … ” Shifting gears, West gets personal on “Roses” and “Hey Mama,” which also showcase his storytelling abilities. On “Roses” he recounts his grandmother’s battle with cancer.
Recreating some of the comedic interludes from The College Dropout, West creates a fictional fraternity called “Broke Phi Broke.” But he does not use as many skits focusing on the music.
There is no shortage of guest appearances on Late Registration. Featured artists include former label mate Cam’ron, Adam Levine, Paul Wall, Jay-Z and Nas. West is not overshadowed by the lyrical ability of veteran emcees Jay-Z and Nas. Rather he plays off them and manages to step up his rap game. Setting itself apart from The College Dropout, West takes Late Registration to a higher level musically and lyrically. He transcends formulaic hip-hop with the help of Fiona Apple’s producer Jon Brion. With horns and trumpets interwoven throughout most of the tracks, the album contains an intensity that West easily feeds from. Overall, Late Registration is arguably one of the best albums of the year.
– Renita Burns
Thoughts of a Predicate Felon
Tony Yayo was stalled numerous times before releasing his debut album, but on Aug. 30, the G-Unit member finally released Thoughts of a Predicate Felon. The main reason it took so long for Yayo to complete his album was because he spent much of his time in prison. G-Unit fans had to be looking forward to hearing Yayo rap as opposed to hearing “Free Yayo!” at the end of every G-Unit beat.
One of the hottest dance songs of the summer, “So Seductive,” which features G-Unit leader 50 Cent, made it seem like Yayo was heading in the right direction, but this is not the case. Other than this one great single, Thoughts of a Predicate Felon cannot boast anything else more than mediocre. Yayo completely lacks creativity on his album, repeatedly rapping about guns, groupies and money.
Another flaw of Yayo’s is his cockiness. Thoughts of a Predicate Felon is his first album, but he acts as though he is a very talented rapper. It is understandable since he is working with the very famous and very cocky 50 Cent, but no rapper, let alone a new one, should make an album with one third of it devoted to talking about groupie love. Ironically, much of Yayo’s album is filled with pop songs rather than hip-hop, one of the exact things 50 Cent criticized about his nemesis Ja Rule.
Adding in a line at the end of the very corny, “Tattle Teller,” about Fat Joe, was also pointless. Despite being part of 50 Cent’s clique, Yayo has accomplished far less than Fat Joe, so Yayo is not yet, or if based on this album alone, will ever be one who can criticize someone who has experience in rap far longer than he. Even with two of the biggest names in hip-hop, 50 Cent and Eminem, on his album, Thoughts of a Predicate Felon failed to match its expectations.
Lloyd Banks and Young Buck, two other G-Unit affiliates who both make appearances on the album, each released much stronger debut albums last year than Yayo.
If it was not for “So Seductive” and the help of 50 Cent, Thoughts of a Predicate Felon would be weaker than it already is. On “So Seductive” Yayo says, “50 got me rich,” so now that he already has the money and jewels, Tony Yayo must have figured he could put out lackluster music to get more money and more girls.
– Jeff Appelblatt