Why are Muse still a band? They seem bored, copping the same Radiohead poses that have gotten them through what seems like a dozen or so releases. But it’s not the band’s laziness and boredom that are so confounding; it’s how they haven’t simply been sued into oblivion. On 2009’s The Resistance, the group stole Blondie’s “Call Me” on “Uprising” and then mugged Depeche Mode for “Undisclosed Desires.” On The 2nd Law’s “Madness,” the band brazenly borrow from George Michael’s “Faith” and Queen’s “I Want to Break Free.” While the band claim they drew influence from techno-rock acts for this album, it’s clear they are grasping to connect to the dubstep fad while continuing to mine some of the more obscure albums of their progressive/glam rock heroes. It’s interesting, though, to hear the band drape themselves in synth hooks and ’80s bass lines that Freddy Mercury used in spades during Queen’s new-age coke period. What makes The 2nd Law listenable are these familiar sounds. It’s the sound of the glam boys trying to find their funk. But even while it worked out badly for the original kings of glam, Muse have to try it again because they are working off of everyone else’s blueprints. Seriously, someone sue these guys and make them write a song of their own.
Try to find an album with a more heart-searing opening two-track combination than the one delivered by Dinosaur Jr. on I Bet on Sky. I dare you, Charlie Murphy, I challenge you! I’m serious. Dead serious. I Bet on Sky is by no means a perfect album but, again, I challenge you— find a reunited ’90s guitar band who can deliver a two-punch combo like “Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know” and “Watch the Corners.” I don’t think anyone can do it. Both tracks play on the band’s earnest metallic grunge riffing and star-exploding choruses, all brought back to earth by J Mascis’ painfully sincere moan. It’s resignation wrapped in your favorite blanket. The rest of the album doesn’t deliver the dose in such a compact form, though. You have to work for it a bit. And it’s almost shocking that the band decided to front-load the album with that kind of pure emotion. But, as resurging dinorockers, perhaps they feel like they need to make their points and make them fast.
Crystal Castles (III) provides the strongest recent argument that the ’80s goth scene was not a waste as far as modern dance music is concerned. Skinny Puppy may have a worthwhile legacy after all. Crystal Castles deliver dark synth hooks and distorted, screeching vocals that make the listener actually have to work to figure what is being said. The formula remains the same, but (III) sees the duo becoming a dynamic band rather than a producer and singer. Everything here is menacing, foreboding and terrifying but its emotional terrorism is delivered in the confines and comforts of pop music—drum machines, a pretty girl singer and synth runs.
So forget about pop music for minute. Two of the metal world’s most distinguished groups have new albums out and they are contenders for best albums of the year, period. Converge’s All We Love We Leave Behind is a tad less focused than their last few releases, but that isn’t saying a lot for a band who tend to cram every damn thing they have into three- minute blasts of hardcore-metal-punk. Lead singer Jacob Bannon might just really be the Pogues’ Shane McGowan on a whole lot of fucking speed. Love fucked this guy up, and each three- minute blast takes you deeper into his despair. Luckily, All We Love We Leave Behind allows for some unbelievable hooks—whether delivered in the form of ass-wagging classic guitar solos or voice-of-satan styled choruses. All We Love We Leave Behind is a perfect demonstration of how Converge can mean so many things to so many people. They paint in jagged lines and dark colors but the result is something stunningly pure and gorgeous.
Speaking of turning ugly in beauty, Neurosis have followed up what I consider their defining modern release,The Eye of Every Storm, with Honor Found in Decay. While their previous release loped and tripped over connecting instrumental lines that eventually cascaded into ethereal, gorgeous and painful choruses, Honor Found in Decay is an album that in someways operates in reverse. While singers Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till seemed almost pensive on their last release—letting the music drip over them, like on “No River to Take Me Home”—the pair come out screaming, pummeling their grating, death rattles over gorgeous chords until they finally give way to doom-laden refrains and soaring keys. There is more of the band’s signature doom sound here than on their previous release, and at points it seems the songwriting suffers for it. Despite their attempts at subtle songwriting, Neurosis are and always will be a hardcore noise band.