Something's Gotta Give
Hardcore bands aren't known for their longevity. Performing semi-harmonious riffs at supersonic speed and living a rebellious, less-than-healthy lifestyle causes most punks to either crash and burn, fade into obscurity, or, usually, mellow with age. Just ask GG Allen, Jello Biafra, or Henry Rollins -- but don't ask founding members of Agnostic Front, vocalist Roger Miret and guitarist Vinny Stigma. Even though they did fade away once, in 1993, after twelve years of touring and seven albums, they're now back with all the fury and speed that made them New York City hardcore legends.
With Something's Gotta Give, the group's first batch of new material since 1993's Last Warning, the band not only returns with the touring lineup from their highly regarded 1984 Victim in Pain album (including bassist Rob Kabula and drummer Jimmy Collette), but they do so without losing a shred of that foursome's classic sound. The misplaced hints at heavy metal found on their 1986 release Cause for Alarm and other releases since are gone. Instead, rapid, simple punk song structures abound, reinforced by various, to-be-expected lyrical testimonies to a solidarity among rebels.
With fifteen tracks lasting only a little more than half an hour, Something's a real burner. "Today, Tomorrow, Forever," "Rage," and the title track are characteristic of most of the album's songs: relentless, frenetic punk rockers. One slow track, "Pauly the Dog," a tongue-in-cheek tune about a dog that likes to drink beer and fight, gives the album its only moments of calm. Otherwise it's balls-to-the-wall hardcore. A couple of seething ditties in particular stand out among the chaos. "Believe" reinforces the unifying aspects of friends and music with the lines, "I know I can trust myself 'cause I believe in what I say/I believe in my friends, because they're with me every day/Believe that we can overcome because the scene is strong today/Believe I live this life because I know hardcore's the way."
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But perhaps the most memorable tune is the thundering oi-inspired "Gotta Go," featuring guest vocalists Tim Armstrong and Lars Frederiksen from Rancid. Everything from the pounding rhythm to Merit's tones and the "gotta, gotta, gotta go" chorus is a brain-brander.
Despite a troubled career that included Miret spending four years in lockup after a drug trafficking conviction, and setbacks as recently as April when Collette was shot in the chest after being robbed (a true punk hero, he was out for only three weeks), Agnostic Front is now a tremendously solid and ambitious band. Besides the recent release of Something's Gotta Give, the group is headlining its own touring punkapalooza, Unity Fest, which is in the middle of a three-month run. In the liner notes for Something's, Miret writes, "Agnostic Front could not be left as it was. I knew there was more to give. With hardcore still in our blood, we re-formed only because it felt as right and as honest as it did from the start. The fat lady never sang and probably never will." Apparently rehabilitated, Agnostic Front plans to be around for a while, spreading the hardcore gospel. True believers welcome.
-- Larry Boytano
Unity Fest, with Agnostic Front, U.S. Bombs, Dropkick Murphys, and Maximum Penalty, takes place Sunday, October 25, at Salvation, 1771 West Ave, Miami Beach; 305-673-6508. Tickets are $10. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Timeless Tales (For Changing Times)
More than any other musical form, jazz is about interpretation, and that's exactly where saxophonist Joshua Redman directs his energy on his latest release, Timeless Tales (For Changing Times). Some of the most significant moments in jazz history have occurred when artists have coaxed previously hidden flavors from works outside the genre, Miles Davis's appropriation of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess and John Coltrane's revolutionary reading of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "My Favorite Things" are two groundbreaking examples. And while Timeless Tales might not shatter artistic barriers with the same force as those landmark works (that would be asking a lot), it does offer exciting new takes on music not often approached from Redman's perspective.
The finest tracks on Timeless Tales are those furthest removed from the jazz canon. Stevie Wonder's "Visions" and Joni Mitchell's "I Had a King" respectfully retain the bittersweet feel of the originals, and Redman's brief self-composed intros provide fresh but appropriate frames. Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'" is a more exuberant venture, anchored by a powerful and persistent vamp from pianist Brad Mehldau. But most surprising is Redman's complete deconstruction of the Beatles's "Eleanor Rigby," which he injects with a bold new rhythmic foundation that borrows heavily from Coltrane's "My Favorite Things." He plays around the melody more than in it, reworking things in so many ways that the song bears little resemblance to the original. Redman's crystal-clear soprano tone and Mehldau's acrobatic soloing rise to a thrilling climax, and you're left wanting more despite the nearly nine-minute length.
Redman generously embraces a group aesthetic throughout Timeless Tales, giving his sidemen -- Mehldau on piano, Larry Grenadier on bass, and Brian Blade on drums -- significant space to explore their own ideas and solos. These are no run-of-the-mill session players mind you -- Mehldau and Blade have each released acclaimed albums of their own during the past few months. Their enthusiastic, refined, and extremely cohesive playing is clear evidence that the entire quartet helped define the overall musical concept. And while jazz interpretation of pop tunes isn't a new idea in itself, the unexpected choices and top-flight musicianship on Timeless Tales justify the price of admission.
-- Chris Duffy
Less Than Jake
Gainesville's finest ska-punk band emerges with its fifth full-lengther and a solid chance to follow in the footsteps of like-minded crossover acts, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Sublime. As part of the so-called third wave of ska, LTJ is among the happy, poppy ska bands who espouse free and deeper thinking while still encouraging a good time. As such, Less Than Jake is the wisecracker in the back of the class; a combination of smartass and just plain smart. The album's goofy artwork and the song titles "All My Best Friends Are Metalheads" and "Scott Farcas Takes It on the Chin" point to the band's smarmy side.
While chronicling how things never seem to change in their hometown on "History of a Boring Town," LTJ shows its braininess with a solidly built song and singer/lyricist Vinnie's burgeoning talent for character sketches. "History" reads like it's about someone familiar, a person who can't progress because they're scared to make a change, and LTJ nails the fear perfectly. But ska is more about movement than words, and Hello Rockview doesn't let up on skank appeal. Though the record, cut in Gainesville with producer Howard Benson (Motsrhead, Buck-O-Nine), includes a handful of songs with potential commercial appeal, it still busts out with hundred-mile-an-hour, sing-along punk songs such as "Great American Sharpshooter" and "Motto." But for all of that -- catchy songs, cleverness, and sense of humor -- Hello Rockview doesn't over-extend itself. At fourteen songs and just 38 minutes, it is a short album. That's all right, though. In its brevity, Hello comes in, cleans the bad vibes from whatever depressing music was last on the stereo, and then it moves on, leaving behind memorable songs and a smile.
-- David Simutis
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