HELLSHOCK WITH SELFISH AND ENVENOMED
Thursday · Sudsy Malone's
For every action, there is a reaction. In Portland, Ore., the explosion of Hardcore acts appears to be a reaction to the city's longstanding reputation as a neo-hippie hotbed. In fact, the influx of utopia seekers has strained the job market there immensely, leaving plenty of idle hands for the Devil's play. One of the most notable bands on this scene is Hellshock, a melodic Metal band with heavy U.K./Crust tendencies. Unlike the current crop of sophomoric Amebix clones, however, they have solid roots in more technical Thrash and very palatable production, making them a standout. Hellshock took their time in releasing a full-length album, 2004's Only the Dead Know the End of War on Whisper in Darkness Records. Before it, the band kept busy for several years playing shows and cranking out 7-inch singles and splits with similar Crustcore artists. This conscious decision to avoid the growing trend of grabbing for the brass ring with a hastily assembled LP was a nod to their dedication to the Punk scene. The disc captures their rumbling mix of thick, buzzsaw guitars and thunderous bass and drums, shifting tempos and dry, growling vocals. Solos are short and sweet, and comparisons to Bolt Thrower or S.O.D. wouldn't be too far off.
As with a lot of Portland Metal, the band's lineup is an incestuous mix of current and former members of other bands, including From Ashes Rise, Remains of the Day, Atrocious Madness and Ausgebombt. While personnel sharing can play havoc for some bands, the members of Hellshock actually used their busy schedules to their advantage to arrange their first European tour, a serendipitous trip in which the band made a point not to leverage their other projects' notoriety to bolster ticket sales. Their current U.S. tour with Finnish Metalers Selfish is similarly under-hyped but nonetheless a must see. (Ezra Waller)
LESSER BIRDS OF PARADISE AND THE PINE CLUB
Saturday · The Comet
· Chicago's Lesser Birds of Paradise are another band for the "this doesn't work on paper, but you'll love it anyway" file. Singer/songwriter Mark Janka's voice never departs from mellow and matter-of-fact, nor do many of the band's songs. And the remaining Lesser Birds' contributions are so understated it would be easy to assume this was a one man band. Despite these coma-inducing elements, I can't get their latest album, String of Bees, out of my stereo. It's not the varied AltFolk instrumentation or careful mixes that make the CD indispensable — although those qualities certainly don't hurt — it's Janka's gut-wrenching songwriting which the Lesser Birds soar upon, both musically and lyrically.
The songs themselves are full of contradiction with a Lo-Fi wheeze, though the beautiful and intricate guitar work is never squonky. Janka's intelligent lyrics are almost Beat poetry, with a starkness that contrasts with his smooth, loving delivery. Multi-instrumentalists Tony Bianchi, Tim Joyce and Greg Thomas provide a backdrop that's at once subtle and bristling with gorgeous tones. These purposeful inconsistencies engage and mesmerize the listener, a magical blend that LBP have faithfully captured with a handful of full-length CDs and EPs since 2001. String of Bees is a magnificent addition to their legacy of fractured Americana, featuring guests from The Cocktails, Melochrome and the Sea and Cake. Common threads run through all of the songs, but each leans in a slightly different direction, from the Country-tinged grace of "Josephine" and "Where the River Meets the Sea" to the loungey "Mermaids on the Blvd." Like the rest of their work, it will thrill fans of Palace Music, Son Volt and low-key Roots in general. Now, if I could just get that Little Jimmy Dickens tune out of my head. (EW)
· The Pine Club's biography describes their music as "all over the place." An apt assessment, though one would hardly expect to find songs that range from Jagger-esque Classic Rock to summer tunes complete with "bop-bop-bah-da" backlines, which could camp out comfortably in an Abercrombie & Fitch ad. But musical potpourri is exactly what you'll find in The Pine Club's self-titled sophomore release. Since Pine's inception in 2002, Brian Gray (lead singer/guitarist), Bradley Coomes (bass) and Brad White (drums) have built up a remarkable working résumé for a group whose members hail from Central Kentucky and Tennessee and who are (self-admittedly) the product of small-town restlessness. Opening for the likes of VHS or Beta, Spoon, The Deathray Davies and other recognizable names, The Pine Club have only begun to plant their seed. Their first attempt, God Bless The Pine Club, pocketed heavy rotation on WFPK-FM in their native Louisville.
In the near future, they plan to begin recording a third record for their label, Debauchery Records. The current 12-song effort is chocked full of variation — from hand-clapping to horn sequences to high energy vocal harmonies — but the thread that ties the sound together is a barely contained itch to just Rock like nobody's business. These songs are wearing neckties, but they long to mount an amp and rip them off. Despite Gray's oblique inflection, "Birthday" can't wander too far without choppy chord progressions yanking it right back to its Adopt-a-Brit roots. And when he oozes, "The choice is clear/I will stay here/You hang in there/You can't go anywhere" in "Boxing Day" — with those moody, nearly sarcastic doo-wahs lurking in the shadows — suddenly there's enough '80s hook-and-sync to spread the group over yet another genre and another era. The Pine Club exudes a large amount of potential and absolutely no fear of deviation, tools that will come in handy as the group continues to evolve. (Hannah Roberts)