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Bottle Up and Explode

By John Brodeur

Liam Finn

I’ll Be Lightning (Yep Roc)

When children of successful rock musicians choose to venture into the family business, the results are, at best, mixed. For every Sean Lennon, there’s a Kelly Osbourne. (Can’t wait to hear Coco Hayley Gordon Moore’s band, though.) So it was with some trepidation that I ventured to a showcase performance by Liam Finn, son of Crowded House/Split Enz leader Neil Finn, a few months back in Manhattan. Word was going around that the young Finn had a great live show, but I heard that same thing before seeing Ben Taylor (James’ kid), and I’d give anything to get back that hour of my life.

Liam Finn rocked my ass.

See, Finn is young enough, and of the right pedigree (read: His dad isn’t Ozzy), to have steered clear of the trappings and expectations associated with some of his peers. In concert, he’s a one-man band, looping his guitar parts with one of those sampler thingys, singing his ass off, and bashing away at the drums like a Muppet. It’s manic, primal energy, channeled through some nifty, at times baroque, pop songcraft. His approach is that of one who simply loves music and enjoys performing it—as he sings on a song from his debut recording, I’ll Be Lightning, “All I know is music moves my feet.”

That’s all you need to know to enjoy Lightning. Recorded, produced and mixed by Finn (the elder Finn is among the very few guest musicians here) in New Zealand, this is a strong and, at times, strikingly personal debut, personal in the sense that you can practically see him running around the studio between the tape machine and the drum kit, trying out idea after idea. There’s a DIY aesthetic in the recording style that recalls some early Beck recordings or the late Elliott Smith’s From a Basement on the Hill.

Smith’s Basement a fine touchstone for Lightning, actually, as Lightning matches Finn’s vulnerable tenor (he does, indeed, sound a bit like his father) to arrangements that favor overdriven bass guitar and drums, gorgeous vocal layering, and a young man’s mind full of big ideas. A fine example is “Second Chance,” where a sped-up drum loop and vibrato guitar lick build anticipation until the chorus, where the live drums explode in a 200 BPM flurry, Finn singing “Don’t forget me when you grow old” in interweaving two-part harmony. It’s an exciting listen. Equally exciting is the penultimate track, “Wide Awake on the Voyage Home,” which revels in the same joy of release, only at a slower pace.

So the kid’s got talent, and plenty of ideas. I’d love to see what he could do with a real recording budget, but on I’ll Be Lightning, he does just fine on his own.

Tunng

Good Arrows (Thrill Jockey)

Tunng are a difficult band to describe, but for the best possible reasons. They have diverse inclinations, all of which they embrace on Good Arrows, their third album. Their quiet power is due to the fact that they incorporate that diversity into one organic whole. There’s not a hint of utilizing a particular genre, sound, or arrangement flourish in order to attract attention by distracting or befuddling a listener. Indeed, Tunng’s mix of folk, ethnic, soundtrack, experimental rock forms, psychedelia and more, is utterly friendly: It’s as if they’ve invited all their influences to a costume party and no one’s exactly as they appear to be, but everyone’s having a rollicking good time. There’s a giddy sense of surprise as a voice darts in or a chorus amasses, or a bit of studio gadgetry brings in an instrument, tosses another out, and then sprinkles some bubbly sounds across the top of it all just because it’s right. The singalong quality of the songs creates alluring contrasts as semi-inscrutable (or perhaps slowly unfolding) poetics are wedded to melodies that sound as natural and familiar as “Happy Birthday.”

—David Greenberger

Dillinger Escape Plan

Ire Works (Relapse)

Dillinger Escape Plan have garnered a reputation as virtuosic risk-takers whose jazz-inspired metalcore is unparalleled in their genre. On Ire Works, DEP take a million steps backward. Unlike the savagely technical Calculating Infinity or their progressive masterpiece Miss Machine, Ire Works finds the band bogged down in a muck of cliché and posturing. The band got their first taste of commercial viability in 2001 when Greg Puciato brought his Mike Patton-inspired vocal talent to the fold. But the commercially inspired ideas on Ire Works never come together, and they just fuck up perfectly adequate metalcore songs.

On Miss Machine, grand string sections and spectacular choruses would take over a song; on Ire Works, wannabe Aphex Twin noise leads to nothing. Electronics clink alongside chugga-chugga riffs; songs fall apart before they even begin; Puciato gives a go at the big chorus, but falls short. And his lyrics are getting to be burdensome—misogynistic, you-will-get-what-you-deserve-rants about women who did him wrong make up Puciato’s limited lyrical range.

On “Milk Lizard,” DEP shamefully ape the less-inspired, but apparently more commercially viable, style of Every Time I Die. On “Black Bubblegum,” they combine a grating riff with a chorus that is sugar-pop sweet—it’s as close as the band have ever come to writing a pop single. And yet the song lacks what no other Dillinger song really ever has lacked: competent musicianship. It’s formulaic, and feels patched together from tossed-aside riffs.

Everything on Ire Works feels rushed, pushed into a gruff, bar-band aesthetic that does not work for a group of musicians who used to play jazz scales with one hand tied behind their backs. Some people may say that critics of Ire Works just don’t get it. Unfortunately I think the people who have a problem with Ire Works do get it, and they see a band so torn in multiple directions that they just don’t know what to do with themselves anymore.

People have called Dillinger Escape Plan the “Radiohead of metal” because they are willing to experiment, but on Ire Works, the band clearly cannot reconcile their lust for experimentation with what they feel they owe their past, and what they owe to their inspirations. The result is simply a mess.

—David King


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