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Drumpicks

Saliva
Stained Love Story
Island

The arrival of a new Saliva album precipitates a little guessing game at the DRUM! office. Which Saliva showed up at the studio this time? Was it the Korn-influenced rap-metalheads that inhabited the band’s first couple CDs, or the melodic hard-rock journeymen that crept into Saliva’s more recent output? While the quintet has always blended both genres into its music, bandleader Josey Scott has steadily steered his creation toward a more bankable strategy – probably a wise move when you consider the career paths of peers like Limp Bizkit and Papa Roach.

Blood Stained Love Story reveals the band making its biggest commitment yet to this radio-friendly trend, overlaying beautifully crafted melodies and harmonies over arena-sized backing tracks. It’s a recipe that brings to mind rockin’ hit-making factories of the late ’70s such as Journey or Foreigner, except that in Saliva’s hands the riffs are slightly more radical, the beats a bit heavier, and the slick studio sheen is calculatedly tarnished with Scott’s occasional white-boy rapping, just to bring us all back to square one.

Perhaps the most illuminating example of this tactic is found on “Never Gonna Change,” the third cut from Blood Stained Love Story. Drop the needle in the middle of a chorus, and you’ll find Scott earnestly pleading, “What do I have to say? What do I have to do?” over battalions of strumming acoustic guitars and choral background singers. It’s a power ballad worthy of a Night Ranger reunion album, masterfully engineered to bring tears to every junior high prom date.

To release this prepubescent tension, Scott smartly follows the prettiness of “Be With You” with “King Of The Stereo,” one of the heavier cuts from the album. Here drummer Paul Crosby lays down his best Chad Smith metal-funk thang, guitarists Wayne Swinny and Joe Montoya chicken-scratch choppy rhythms, and Scott spits out rapped verses dripping with venom. The contrast between sweet and sour is inescapable, yet for my money, Scott sounds much more at ease singing full-throated melodies than doing an Anthony Kiedis impression. Our advice is to stick to the tunes, go for the gold.

But it’s too easy to compartmentalize Saliva’s sound into a couple snappy sound bites when in fact there’s more depth than meets the eye. As the band inches ever toward consumerism, other musical references continue to swim just below the surface. The big opener and the album’s first single, “Ladies And Gentleman” shows how these Tennesseans can be perfectly in tune with the rap-metal movement while channeling the spirit of heavy southern rockers like Lynrd Skynrd and Molly Hatchet. And you can’t miss the soaring ELO and Beatles flavors present on the mid-tempo “Going Under” or the new wave pop of the album’s catchiest track, “Twister.”

With such emphasis placed on smart songcraft, Crosby’s drum parts are reduced to a purely supportive role on much of Blood Stained Love Story. His tubs sound big, fat, and ambient, and he unleashes a succession of infectious grooves that bounce with ample gusto through these ten tracks. When he gets the chance to catch some spotlight time, Crosby makes the most of it without going overboard, such as the well-conceived four-limbed triplet fill that provides a transition from the guitar solo into the final chorus on “One More Chance.” And he sounds like his old self on the hardest number on the album, “Black Sheep,” hammering skipping snare drum ghost notes that nudge the momentum forward.

However, Blood Stained Love Story comes off as an impressive collection of singles rather than a cohesive piece of work, a byproduct of Saliva’s split personality. We applaud any band that struggles to be three-dimensional, but while they are skilled on stage and in the studio, there seem to be only two sides to Saliva’s coin.

Boys Like Girls
Boys Like Girls
Red Ink/Columbia

Music
At first blush (or maybe pimple), the Boys were probably a regular bunch of brash Bostonian popsters. But after slathering on some emo-earnest vocals, sprinkling on some slyly sophisticated electronic bleeps, and packing on a bit of hard-rock muscle, the energetic four-piece sounds about as great as any young band ever has. And if that description doesn’t grab you, the group’s catchy melodies surely will. Just try to escape “Heels Over Head.”

Drumming
John Keefe’s shred-grooving swings all kinds of ways. First check out his punchy kick drum sound on 2-and-4 whackers like “On Top Of The World.” Next listen as he spices things up a little with the hi-hat sloops on “Hero/Heroine.” And then take notes on how he subtly combines acoustic patterns with electronic rhythms on “Me, You, And My Medication.” Excellent work.

Verdict
Smart boys and girls like Boys Like Girls. You’re not dumb, are you?

Josh Dion Band
Live!
WeBad

Music
Josh Dion and company are old-school cool in the very best way: They’re real musicians playing real songs on real instruments. And they’re doing it real damn good, particularly on this live release. Juggling duties as leader and lead vocalist, Dion belts out the band’s jam-thick tunes with a rich voice that proves white guys might just have soul after all. And that’s not even the coolest part. Dion, you see, not only sings …

Drumming
… He plays all the drums too. And the dude is appropriately funky and skilled, a born pocket player with plenty of slick licks that keep a beat bouncy and interesting, like on the intro of “Boogie On Reggae Woman” with its infectious sixteenth-note rim-clicks. Fast-forward to the 16-minute-plus “Birdwalker” for a dash of Dion’s chops.

Verdict
A drummer-led, soul-soaked jam band that isn’t afraid to work up a sweat. Or sling it around. Bring a towel.

The Photo Atlas No, Not Me, Never
Stolen Transmission

Music
Billed as dance-punk phenoms straight out of sky-high Denver, Photo Atlas does indeed get the feet moving and the head flailing. The band’s tunes are appropriately and appealingly schizo, a combination of angst-pained vocals (Alan Andrews doesn’t so much sing as exorcise demons) and up-tempo happy-tapping rhythms. And after mixing in plenty of those angular, math-rocky guitar parts made popular by Brit-hipsters like Franz Ferdinand and the Arctic Monkeys, the Photo foursome forge a sound that’s not at all pretty, but is certainly seductive. And dangerous. Two minutes in, you’ll wonder whether to dance or to break stuff.

Drumming
Devon Shirley, taking charge of both drums and sampling, hits with tendon-snapping abandon. Give a listen to the big-ass kick bombs on “Little Tiny Explosions.” The guy means business.

Verdict

No, Not Me, Never – an essential purchase for real music fans? Yes, you, always. Go grab a copy.

Alkaline Trio
Remains
Vagrant

Music


Occam’s razor – “the simplest solution tends to be the best one” – is the first thing that comes to mind while listening to Alkaline Trio’s newest compilation of rarities and b-sides. When this group rushes into a smaller studio to throw down a few tracks for a split, the raw angst and black humor that distinguishes their music tends to come through more than when they spend weeks in a sound booth with mega-producer Jerry Finn. The trio works well under the gun, and this is some of their best work.

Drumming
Listening to Derek Grant drum with Alkaline Trio is like watching Steve Gadd back up Eric Clapton. The two drummers are so capable on the instrument that anything they play is a cohesive musical statement. And what they don’t play tends to be even more interesting.

Verdict
Like all of Alkaline Trio’s music, these 22 pop-punk tunes make you wish you were more depressed. For a pick up, definitely pick this one up.

Self Against City
Telling Secrets to Strangers
Drive-Thru/Rushmore

Music
Telling Secrets To Strangers is melodic and youthful pop punk, oozing indie-rock flair. It’s not necessarily deep or groundbreaking, but I don’t think that’s the point. It’s fun, accessible, and one of those guilty pleasures that’ll have you singing along with the MySpacers, especially on “Ready And Willing.” The tracks “Tequila Moonlight” and “Back To Our Innocence” are surprisingly mature and worthy of multiple spins.

Drumming
Drummer Chris Trombley left the band after making the album, but not without leaving a solid footprint of driving rhythms – all full of energy and pivotal for each catchy chorus.

Verdict
Famous for discovering groups like Dashboard Confessional and New Found Glory, Drive-Thru Records has done it again with Self Against City (who got the name by mishearing a DJ publicize Bowie’s “Suffragette City”). Though the Sacramento-based band has plenty of ground to cover, Telling Secrets To Strangers is a good sign they’re on the right track.

Piebald
Accidental Gentleman
Side One Dummy

Music
Piebald is used to doing things their own way. Whether it’s driving a tour bus that runs on fast-food grease or recording an album (dare I say?) via analog tape, there’s something so punk – and, of course, economical – about avoiding modern technology. Accidental Gentleman is raw, poignant, borderline sloppy, and yet retains an overall sincerity and urgency that is oh so admirable. As one might expect by their eco-conscious lifestyle, Piebald’s lyrics are rooted in meaningful subject matter, particularly on the track “There’s Always Something Better To Do,” which challenges a consumer-driven existence.

Drumming
Luke Garro shifts between poppy punk and borderline folk-country tempos like a truck driver in a traffic jam, grinding his grooves with intensity.

Verdict
There’s no doubt that Accidental Gentleman is rooted in punk, but gems like the piano ballad “Strangers” make for the perfect pint-pounding sing-along. Cheers.

Kill Hannah
Until There’s Nothing Left Of Us Atlantic Records

Music
Until There’s Nothing Left Of Us is somewhat of a new beginning for Kill Hannah. Whereas their previous release, Forever Never & Ever, was recorded in L.A., this album takes them home to Chi-town, a place that shaped their synth-driven goth pop. The result is better for it. (They’ll still give any ’80s glam-rock band a run for their money in the mascara department.) The music is emotive and recalls bands like Smashing Pumpkins and The Cure. Mat Devine’s androgynous vocals are perfect for the spaced-out sounds, especially on the cover of The Church’s “Under The Milky Way,” which happens to be phenomenal.

Drumming
Garret Hammond amiably passed the drum torch to Joe Babiak after finishing the album, leaving the hefty task of executing perfectly thumping beats and fills.

Verdict
Kill Hannah has been tiptoeing around mainstream success for years, but with this new album and the sudden emergence of bands like My Chemical Romance, they won’t be able to hide any longer. No matter how much makeup they lather on.

Softlightes Say No To Being Cool - Say Yes To Being Happy
Modular Records

Music
Maybe it’s being close enough to L.A. to bask in the cinematic glow but far enough to steer clear of the plastic surgery veneer, but San Diego, with its gentle waves and warm nights, has spawned a continuous stream of pretty, sweet, and downright wholesome bands. The latest is Softlightes – a gumdrop pop gem with sugary vocals and shoe-gaze guitars. Think heartfelt melodies, sad boy singers in V-necks, and next season’s soundtrack for The O.C., but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Softlightes feels strangely familiar: the best band you think you’ve already heard, whose records you’re sure you already own, but somehow don’t.

Drumming
Whether smacking the snare in succinct, lockstep marching style or lightly tapping a clave-inspired click pattern, Tim Fogarty knows just when to push forward, fall back, fill the space, or open up and let the vocals take hold. Subtle, shimmery, steady – it’s the frosting on top of the Softlightes sugar cookie.

Verdict
Pass the syrup please: irresistible sweets sure to decay your teeth.

Dr. Dog
We All Belong
Park The Van

Music
Any band that openly embraces a 24-track, 2" tape machine is a-okay by us. Or for that matter any band that, in today’s digital minefield, embraces analog, period. No dis to digital, but there’s just something unmatchably authentic about that fuzzed-out warm tape sound. Home recording wizards and five-piece Philly collaborative Dr. Dog know this and use it to make the most of their ’60s-inspired sound – Beatles harmonies meet psych rock slathered with keys and a nice dollop of tambourine swish on top.

Drumming
Juston Stens mines the gentle grooves of ’60s soul kings and The White Album to bounce the beat between slow-dance shoe scuffers and chaotic, semi-experimental rock breakdowns. Be sure to check out “The Girl” with its spastic, clattering cowbell chaos.

Verdict
Makes you want to buy a record player and get this on vinyl just to hear the sound of the needle in the groove, the popping static, and the occasional scratch.

Sonic Youth
The Destroyed Room
Geffen

Music
Here’s the thing about Sonic Youth: The seminal art-punk NYC noise rockers who elevated pretty/noisy, noisy/pretty to an art form have been together so long and have so many albums and offshoots not even the most dedicated Thurston Moore worshiper can keep up! Now SY bring you b-sides and rarities. Heavy on instrumentals, The Destroyed Room swerves from 10-minute-plus jams to ambient avant noise to unpolished pop gems. Add the breathy “Razor Blade” outtake and “Kim’s Chords” to your SY greatest-hits play list.

Drumming
The amazing thing about skinsman Steve Shelley is that amid all the amped-up stacks, crazy feedback, and collapsing chords, he anchors every track – sometimes just tapping lightly on the cymbals or hats. And when structures evaporate, giving way to sonic exploration, it’s Shelley who keeps the framework and the song intact.

Verdict
Do we really need a b-sides and rarities record from this beloved band? In a word: no, but oh how we want it anyway.

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