Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Knapsack ‎– This Conversation Is Ending Starting Right Now (1998)

Boasting a slightly sharper production (courtesy once again of Drive Like Jehu drummer Mark Trombino) and more desperate sound than its predecessor, Knapsack's third album sounds like what it was - a great band making their somewhat angry final record. Criticized for sameness in the past, Knapsack attempts to stretch out a bit more on This Conversation, with some degree of success. Ultimately, though, what made people like the band was what the band delivered: straightforward, no frills emotional rock. While certainly not groundbreaking, they did it remarkably well.
Josh Modell

It's easy to reminisce upon days you never lived. To look back upon the memories you never experience, and even tell stories of the life you never lived. I know I'm guilty of it, aren't we all? And while I'm far from a habitual liar, I like to think I was a child of 90's emo music. I'm not, at all. I feel a much stronger affinity towards those emotional 90's masterpieces In the Aeroplane Over The Sea and Either/Or than I do towards Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Superunknown, or the grunge movement. Needless to say, as much as I wish it weren't the case, I was a giddy child meeting the Backstreet Boys (Yes, I met them; and this is a judgement-free-zone, right?) while Knapsack was busy releasing a seminole record in third-wave emo music. A testament to the powers of emotional lyrics and parallel guitars driving a record forward rather than louder, more abrasive instrumentation, This Conversation Is Ending Starting Nowis a too beautiful record to be overlooked as often as it is. 

Highly melodic, This Conversation Is Ending Starting Now is Knapsack's third and final record. The pinnacle of their short-lived career, the record is highly melodic, as the hypnotizing guitar riffs are the main draw of the record. Each song is sounds fresh as can be, even after we're opening it up from the vault over a decade later. "Katherine The Grateful" is a romping, fast-paced example of this quality on full display. The percussion often follows suit ("Arrows To The Action," doubles as a catchy single and a furious display of subtle percussion), as it manages to go from the forefront of the performance to a softer backbone to lean on in the blink of an eye. Everything from the bass to the guitar to the drum is very tight and well-produced, as is expected from a producer such as Drive Like Jehu drummer Mark Trombino, the indie-rock is fitting and cohesive. The aspect that surely set Knapsack apart, though, is Blair Shehan's vocals. You may have heard his later work as vocalist on The Jealous Sound, but nowhere else do his whispery screams feel so at home as they do one This Conversation Is Ending Starting Now. Emotional and heartfelt, his voice is what sets apart Knapsack from both contemporaries or predecessors. It's certainly not the most talented voice in the world, but the raw yet crystal clear style is what my personal affinity for Knapsack revolves around. His whispers that abruptly erupt into all-out screams are an enticing burst of energy that prompt the listener to join in, and the lack of pretension or cliche in the lyrics (I mean seriously: read that damn title, not too clever, but clever enough) make you believe in what you're singing, too. 

Yes, it's been done before in more exciting and groundbreaking fashion. To be honest Knapsack doesn't offer a whole lot new to the palate of the emo aficionado, but it does something more than that: it makes you like it. This Conversation Is Ending Starting Now is a record that's an incredibly catchy, likable version of an experience most people shove aside as daunting, and Knapsack at its best is an experience to cherish within itself.

I'm sure a fair amount of you enjoy, or at least are familiar with the band The Jealous Sound. You may or may not know that lead singer Blair Shehan had a band prior to The Jealous Sound, that band was Knapsack, and this is their finest work.

Their career as a band spanned only a meagre three albums, but the talent and cohesiveness of this band can't be measured in the number of albums in their catalog. Because of the success of the Jealous Sound, Knapsack are often overlooked, but this album will let you know exactly why they're not a band to be cast over.

The place that Knapsack really draws you in is with Shehan's voice. It's a talented voice, but at the same time something you feel like you can sing every word along with. It's honest, and it's strong, and unique in a way you don't find with many indie rock bands on the scene today. The voice is something you can find yourself identifying too, and that's how the lyrics are tied in as well. It grabs you as soon as you hear it, and takes you on a ride throughout the albums duration. The sincerity of Shehans voice puts every listener in a place where they understand what this music is about. The lyrics are intelligent, without ever being pretentious or cliché. "The shake of the shame, But it hangs around your name, for the first time you're afraid, And you take what they left, choke on their success, but you're nothing anyway."

The musicianship is tight, and cohesive. The guitar isn't too complex, the drumming isn't exceptional, and the bass isn't overpowering, but it all just fits. Knapsack have even incorporated some quite uncommon instruments into this record, including sleigh bells and an organ. These instruments fell right at home in the music, they don't feel forced as some bands do. The main problem with bands like this is usual feeling of "haven't I heard this song before?" "No," is the answer here. With the added incorporation of a cello, and a violin, there's enough distinction between each song to keep things interesting. Clocking in at around 30 minutes, you won't find yourself having to skip anything here.

This is solid, straightforward indie rock at it's very finest. Music you'll be humming and singing along to as long as your CD will last you. Standout songs are "Katherine The Grateful," "Cinema Stare," and "Change Is All The Rage."

If you enjoy bands such as the Jealous Sound, Rival Schools, Far, and Benton Falls, this is something you'll be doing yourself a favor to purchase.

Knapsack ‎– Day Three Of My New Life (1997)

Davis, CA, pop-punk band Knapsack's second album has an excellent title and music to match. Sure, this kind of earnest, emotional rock had been done a million times - particularly by Samiam, whose Sergie Loobkoff would actually join Knapsack before their next record - but the songs and style of Day Three are ultimately quite timeless. The themes - romance and the loss thereof - are also fairly typical, but when handled by singer/songwriter Blair Shean's gritty voice and witty pen, they transcend.
Josh Modell

If I could rate Knapsack as a band rather than their individual albums they would surely be in my top tier. Each one of their full-lengths is an album you find yourself liking. Yeah, that's it, just liking, at first. Well, this is me, at least. Until one sunny afternoon or some bullshit like that, you realize you've played This Conversation Is Ending Right Now to death, an infinite amount of times and it feels even fucking fresher, more memorable and distinct than when you first laid ears on it a year ago. Blair Shehan's gritty vocals are so utterly grimy and imperfect, but you don't go long without singing along to "Decorate the Spine" or something, it just doesn't happen. This is Knapsack as a band though, we haven't even gotten as far asDay Three of My New Life yet, thanks to my fittingly lackadaisical reviewing. 

First though, it'd be helpful to gain a better grasp on the band. Remember the days of early 90's emocore... of Rites of Spring, Embrace, Other Obvious Namedrop, those bands? Me neither, but we wish we did, don't we? Anyway, Knapsack is a sad representative of the bastard spawn of that era. One of the many, I might add. Before pussy shit like American Football and after pussy shit like The Get Up Kids became the norm for the genre, Knapsack was balancing on the thin line, maintaining the invigorating energy of emo while incorporating the friendlier, indie aesthetic of more digestible influences. They weren't alone by a long shot-- Texas Is The Reason, Mineral, Braid, Christie Front Drive, and a million other bands were doing more or less the exact same thing next door. Thing was, Knapsack basically perfected it. They might not be sharing the limelight with aforementioned bands, but Knapsack's music was a lot more fun than said bands, anyway: louder than Texas Is The Reason, catchier than Mineral, more fun than Braid. Chugging guitars, equally emotional and nonsensical song names and lyrics, and a vocalist you weren't sure whether to bow down to or just shake your head in pity at (either way, it's memorable), Knapsack defined the middle ground stuck between catharsis and catchiness. They were the late 90's bastard of earlier emo bands.

And yet, Day Three of My New Life is a disappointment in ways. It's like Knapsack only had a set amount of dynamism for their record, and chose to spend it all on the first four songs only instead of divvying it up. Fuck, I don't blame them. If the dull, monotony of "Henry Hammers Harder" and "Boxing Gloves" is the sacrifice for the orgasmic perfection of "Thursday Side of the Street," you've got yourself a deal, Shehan and company. The liveliness of each throat-groggling, bright, anthem that graces the beginning of Day Three of My New Life is enough is enough to warrant as many duds as they'd like further on. Well, not really, but it's difficult not to think so at times. Forgive Knapsack for their flaws on their second full-length... for making one of the most unbalanced records ever, for losing their early, abundant energy, and for inevitably causing you to lose your voice the day before your philosophy presentation (uncontrollably singing along to "Thursday Side Of The Street" and scorching your throat, of course). Cut ‘em a break. They haven't quite reached their consistent potential of This Conversation, but they're showcasing some of their best here. Or, you could just listen to the first four songs off of Day Three of My New Life, remember that Knapsack are a genre-defining little group from California, and scream your lungs out to 
"He says, thanks for coming home,
If not for the bar i'd spend my life aloooone,"
Not sure why, I just love that line. Most of them, for that matter.

Knapsack is a college band in every sense of the word. The type of band that evokes the sound, smell and feel of those tiny, rocking live music clubs with a stage that's just barely off the ground. The type of band that easily helps you forget your obligations and encourages you to just drink some beer and hang with your buds while you soak up their no frills rock. The type of band that a college radio station without commercial intentions would play in a set with Generation X, The Godfathers, Leaving Trains and early Replacements.

Formed at University of California at Davis in 1993, Knapsack consists of vocalist/guitarist Blair Shehan, drummer Colby Mancasola and bassist Rod Meyer. An unpolished chip off the same rock as early Goo Goo Dolls, Knapsack's sound is simple but gets the job done. Shehan sounds like a Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum)/David Lowery (Cracker) hybrid with raspy touches of Richard Butler (Psychedelic Furs) as he sings his way into a sort of yell-shout that convinces you he's putting everything he has into the delivery.

Day Three of My New Life, the band's sophomore release, was produced by Drive Like Jehu's Mark Trombino. And Knapsack opens with "Thursday Side of the Street", a number propelled by Shehan's vocal surge, power chords, pulsating bass, pounding drums and crashing cymbals. Typical of the offerings here, its hook is the big crescendo at the chorus where Shehan belts his guts out. "Diamond Mine", "Heart Carved Tree" and "Sleeper Than We Thought" stand out here as the few tracks which forego the build-up but retain the energy and drive.

Knapsack's high fueled approach is short and to the point, with all ten tracks clocking in under five minutes. But like a good roller coaster or thrill ride, it will keep you coming back for more.
Joann D. Ball

Knapsack ‎– Silver Sweepstakes (1995)

Knapsack play driving indie rock in the vein of Superchunk. Though the album is good, the lack of tempo changes can grow frustrating.
John Bush

This is the first release from Davis's late and great knapsack. It's also their only release as a four piece. Knapsack also shared a member with Samiam.

I once read that Knapsack is one of those bands that people think they should listen to but never quite get around to it. Well, if you haven't heard them yet you should listen to them until your ears start to bleed. As you probably can tell they are one of my favorite bands (and this is a really bad review).

Well now I'm on to describing their sound. This is their most gritty of their records. They can go from slow bass driven verses to power chord dripping choruses that stay in your head forever. The choruses, although driving, are not heavy or fast, but still move with the slowness of the verses. This not an annoying drawn out slowness like one found in Mineral; however, it is more of a slowness that just feels right.

Blair's voice is one of the best I have ever heard. He can go from whispering to bone chilling screaming all in one breath. The way he screams is not like the singer from grade or the heart broken backups on thursday; it is more of a melodic grating sound (whoa that's an oxymoron). All in all, these are the saddest songs I have ever heard.

I suggest everyone listen to this. Also check out the jealous sound, Blair's new band.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Penfold ‎– Our First Taste Of Escape (2001)

Although it's probably unintentional, there's a small dose of irony in the title of Penfold's first full-length release. While Our First Taste of Escape is the band's debut long-player, one of the first places their music surfaced was on the Deep Elm collection,The Emo Diaries Chapter 3: The Moment of Truth. And while Penfold's brand of indie rock could certainly be labeled "emo" and sit nicely alongside any of the other Deep Elm bands, it would really be an injustice to the complexity of their sound. So there's almost a double meaning to this "escape" as the band's debut on Milligram will hopefully allow it to avoid being pigeonholed.

Penfold certainly brings a scope that is uncommon to bands normally pegged as emo. Their music is alternately loud and raucous and sweetly solemn, moving adroitly between emotional extremes and setting up sonic textures to enhance moods. There's also a simple musicality to Penfold that escapes many of their brethren. Although each member of the band is skilled enough to take note of, Michael Jones's drumming truly holds this album together with varied beats that sound just as good at the forefront as they do when supporting the wailing guitars. And while the vocals waver into the all-too-familiar keening wails of emo-dom from time to time, there's equal emphasis on actual singing of melodies. Vocal duties (and songwriting credits) are split between Brian Carley and Stephan Jones, but unfortunately there's no indication of which songs belong to whom or else I'd give more specific credit.

Our First Taste of Escape lets you know that this will be a unique indie rock listening experience from the get-go with "The Opportune Moment",, a track of spacey electronic keyboards that blends into "Fate, Confidence and an Encounter" (the "two" songs actually share a combined title but separate track numbers), a melodic slow-jam that features beautiful rising tempos and glides on Stephan Jones's reverberating double bass lines. However, there are plenty of all-out rockers that will fulfill the guitar lover's desires in songs like "The Secret Nine", "Sea of Crisis", and "May I Have This Dance".

But it's on songs like "Human Drama", the title track "Our First Taste of Escape", and "Brilliance" that Penfold really stretches its wings to show the various dimensions the band is capable of. "Human Drama" forefronts the combination of Michael and Stephan Jones's drums and bass (none of their press info states whether or not they're brothers, but it wouldn't surprise me) and shows Penfold to possess some of the majesty and power of metal, but tempered by an artistry and sensitivity that makes their "rocking out" seem warranted rather than gratuitous. Likewise, "Our First Taste of Escape" nods towards the metal spectrum, but this time to the art-metal of Tool. A tense, dense song that drifts under the heavy bass line in a way extremely reminiscent of "Sober", even the vocals are delivered in a manner that obviously draws on Maynard Keenan's particular style. Probably the most memorable song on the disc, "Our First Taste of Escape's" main rival is "Brilliance" and it's sad-core reference of Billie Holliday.

Closing with the piano-only "Early Morning, Maudlin Street", Our First Taste of Escape is not the typical indie rock album. Penfold shows that it is as comfortable working within the wall-of-guitar sound as it is with the subtle spaces of melody, producing an album that continually grows on you as you unearth new hooks with repeated listens. Thematically, the poetry of isolation and loss runs throughout the disc, staying within the safe borders of the emo side of indie rock, but musically this is an album that actually manages to transcend its genre, and hopefully will make the rest of the world take note.
Patrick Schabe

For my money, the general genre of emo/indie rock was absolutely at its peak in the 90's, and has suffered a pretty drastic downfall since that timeframe. However, there are occasional outfits that come along and really recapture the affecting power of those classic days, and Penfold was without a doubt one of those select few bands that kept the true aesthetic of that niche alive into the present decade – and created a downright incredible album in the process.

Formed in New Jersey in 1997, Penfold played an incredibly beautiful yet dark, textured form of what I've always referred to as "emo/indie rock" simply for lack of a better term. Technically that is the category that this music would fall into, but it's so much more than that… On the band's sole full-length, 2002's "Our First Taste of Escape", the song structures seem basic on the surface, but there's a great deal of subtle detail and layering underneath. Guitar lines weave together against flighty basslines and fluid drum patterns, moods shift from calm and somber to energetic and oddly catchy, two amazing vocalists seamlessly trade off lead duties without a hitch… it's just wonderful material. Some of the rhythms border on heavy post-hardcore grooves; sporadically a jagged or discordant chord progression will make an appearance; and of course there are tons of smooth, flowing clean passages (at times layered with acoustic guitars or keyboards). You just can't lose, and the gorgeously flawless production and highly impressive packaging simply seal the deal. If you're a fan of related genres this is an essential release, and easily ranks among the finest such records in the post-90's age.

Intricate and very calming, this is probably one of the best indie/rock and roll releases I've reviewed in a long long time. Very quiet, and moody, it delves into emotions like no band I've ever heard. Their lyrics are a work of art, and read like a story instead of mispieced songs just thrown together. The song that left the biggest inpression was "The Secret Nine" - a very soft and touching piece... one of the lines struck a chord in me.... "the secret nine and i, will stay with you tonight, and we'll watch these tears dry. at least we'll never have a reason to say goodnight." This release stands worlds above 99% of the other indie/emo slop that I have ever reviewed. Heartfelt and soft spoken, this will leave an impression on you for a long time.

Penfold ‎– Amateurs And Professionals (1999)

"...if you're frightened of dying and... you're holding on, you'll see devils tearing your life away. But if you've made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the earth."
Penfold - Amateur Standing (cites Meister Eckhart, voice sample from Jacob's Ladder film)

Sadness is one of the easiest feelings to portray through music. A minor key, a slow tempo and a sad vocal melody and you're done. But doing it convincingly and well is another story. Whilst not ever daring to breach the walls of indie/emo, Penfold's Amateurs and Professionals constantly generates a solemnly pretty and emotionally grating atmosphere, and although they may be following the footsteps of their counterparts, they are sure to cement their own flavour in along the way.

Their 'flavour' being one that flickers between sweet guitar melodies and loud, raucous sections but is always carried by voice. It's understandable how some may find the vocalist's timbre a little repetitive, perhaps whiny at times, however we've all heard people say that about Jeremy Enigk. Vocal melodies are the real driving force behind the songs for the majority – the other instrumentation merely providing a backdrop for the singing that sometimes seem to shimmer ever so slightly out of tune, but to positive effect. The clean and crisp production of it all is a necessity because of this, allowing the typical indie-band instrumentation to come to life even in the musically simpler sections.

The potential highlight of the EP, "I'll Take You Everywhere", follows a similar descriptive tale, with the guitarists providing a canvas of delicate arpeggios whilst the vocalist paints the track with his sombre melodies. Comparisons with art would not be too inaccurate actually; however subjective 'art' may be, most can agree that art is about expression. The well crafted climax of this song complete with its tasteful gradual tempo increase and dominant vocal shouts will ensure you that Penfold definitely express.

Not only do they work their magic of empathy at a low gear, they are also fully capable of packing forceful energy and musical skill into their songs for added feeling. It's not uncommon for music to lose some of its emotion when the band is clearly hiding behind simple dynamic changes and a wall of distortion, however Penfold utilise their sense of loud instrumentation sparingly, to good effect. Such a moment reveals itself in the intense "Traveling Theory" [SIC], where they accompany the loudness with evolving drums, pleasant yet strong chord progressions, and multiple, overlapping vocals.

This won't be the most original thing you've ever heard, and nor will it be the most heart-wrenching, but it's an inspired release of feeling and mood. Like the EP title suggests, some parts are amateur, and others professional. But Penfold are definitely qualified sorrow-stirrers. Amateurs and Professionals is just another album to coincide with your rainy day.

"This space starts out empty, and I know it can't hurt more than it already does, it falls around and hits me in the face and falls onto the ground".

And so begins the undeniably emo lyrics to this record, and if I was to describe the things i feel while listening to this album, this is how I would do it. From the moment it began i was lost inside the beauty of it, for it dragged me motionless and senseless around for the thrity plus minutes of it's existence in a way that no record has done for such a tragically long time. And the reason I am sounding like a cliched emo lyricist is simple, I am merely preparing you for the lyrics of the album. 

However unoriginal the lyrics or sound may be for an emo record, i could not deny the brilliance of it. Think Mineral with a bit more power and speed, and a lot less whining, and you have Penfold. It begins with the slowest, prettiest song, June (I think with my collection of emo records, i have a song named after every month of the year) to some of the more hardcore-y songs like tuesday (i think with my collection of emo records, I have a song named after every day of the week) this record shows perfect balance and with seven songs, doesn't overstay it's welcome like many a album i have bought recently does. However unoriginal this album may be, I still love it, and I don't care what you think. Now I think I shall go and write some poetry.
Dan Baker

Monday, August 05, 2013

And I want to know the difference between what sparkles and what is gold

What do you think about the Mega? It's better than rusfolder?

Sideshow ‎– Lip Read Confusion (1995)

Lip Read Confusion was the third and final full length put out by Bernie Mcginn’s (founder of Caulfield Records) band Sideshow. Because he was unable to put the album out on Caulfield due to its busy release schedule at the time he released the album on Flydaddy Records. Lip Read Confusion was the cumination of all the hard work and evolution of a band that started in the late 80s and was originally a hardcore band. The album was released in 1995 and the band broke up shortly after. The vinyl was put out on Caulfield.

Sideshow ‎– Lip Read Confusion (1995) 320kbps

Sideshow ‎– Eggplants And Sunspots (1993)

Emo. Stupid name, but once a perfectly acceptable and listenable form of music. Perhaps time is turning the "e" word into a love/hate badge of pride, or it's still an incurable disease, I don't know. I would say the third wave has ruined it for everyone. Sure as hell ruined it for me.

So. Sideshow was a trio that hailed from Lincoln, Nebraska and along with KC's Boys Life and Giants Chair, were the "indie rock" faction of the Midwestern scene (a verbose way of saying "Sideshow was an indie rock band"). To my knowledge they put out four 7" singles, one vinyl album and two albums on CD. I would do an entire discography but I have no means of ripping vinyl right now, so you'll take what I give ya. I should mention that bass player Bernie McGinn operated the mighty Caulfield Records which also released the majority of the Sideshow discography.

As it was likely a love for Sideshow that brought you here in the first place, then i'll spare you my achingly inaccurate descriptions (except the mess above). If not, then bask in the sunny Midwestern greatness and decide for yerself.

Sideshow ‎– Eggplants And Sunspots (1993) 320kbps