The Separation- Retire Your Engines

"The Separation Appear To Be Camera Shy"

Why do so many bands insist on putting “core” in their descriptions of themselves? It adds nothing, as it base term “hardcore” really means nothing, musically. This is why I was confused listening to ‘Retire Your Engines’ by self proclaimed ‘post-hardcore’ band The Separation from Kent. I guess it makes a useful addition to your description of your band, but it does not really give much of an impression of what your band sound like. Personally, I would describe The Separation as prog-influenced-screamo, but that’s just me.

Still, that doesn’t really help you visualise the sound very well, let me try and place it in terms of other bands. Take one part Thursday and mix it well with Fightstar. Them, in a separate bowl, take Coheed and Cambria and fold Rush in well. Take your Coheed/Rush mixture and sprinkle it liberally over the Thursday/Fightstar blend. Garnish with Fugazi and serve The Separated to your hungry listeners. However, maybe the screamo comment is a little too far, as lyrically, they seem to be going against the traditional Emo grain. Take the song ‘The Real Cost Of Our Free Ride’ for instance, featuring the lyrics “The ‘lets get pregnant’ marathon/We’re at our best when we’re left alone/The ‘I hate my parents’ telethon/We’re at our best when we’re left alone”. The Separation seem to be doing well at mocking the emo/screamo sterotypes, at least a little, which is nice to see.

The lyrics are actually well written, bordering on the poetic, though as occasionally lost when the clean vocals take on a whiney or screamy edge. Sadly, this happens a little too often. They are backed by a pinpoint accurate lead guitar line, and bass with a surprisingly pleasant tone, if simple musically. The rhythm guitar chugs along nicely distorted, sitting on top of adequate (if not overly impressive) drums. They go together to form this odd post-hardcore-prog-screamo mix, which despite all the disparate elements comes together as a nicely produced package. Most of the elements have been done better on their own, but personally I’ve never heard anything exactly like it before so would recommend giving it a listen.

7/10

Standout Tracks:

Black Wire

The Distance Between Us

Three Sisters and The Burning Widow

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Junior Achiever- All The Little Letdowns

"Red Album? What Red Album?"

I don’t know about you, dear readers, but at the time of writing I’m getting rather tired of the cold and the snow that winter brings. It’s at times like these that you need something fun and fluffy to help you look forward to the warming rays of the summer sun. All this is why I was so glad to have Junior Achiever’s debut “All The Little Letdowns” drop onto my review pile.

Canadian based Junior Achiever don’t like to be labelled pop-punk, instead preferring the title ‘After-School-Special-Core’ of their own invention. While it is always nice when a band saves me from having to come up with a label for them, but it’s a lot easier to just think of them as pop-punk or power-pop, it describes them well enough. Simple lines, happy tone, few chord changes, occasional heartfelt quiet moments, fast drums, sounds like pop-punk to me. One way to look at pop punk bands is to see how they stack up against all the rest of the multitude out there. Junior Achiever are kind of like Blink 182 mixed with Weezer, except without the teenage humour, and with the inclusion of *shock horror* occasional swearwords!

One thing that’s easy to take from this is that they are pretty harmless. Even their occasional naughty words feel like a kid trying them out for effect, rather than being backed up by any malice. All if the album is reminiscent of other popular songs, but not quite enough to make you feel like you’ve heard it before, which is a reasonably happy position to be in as a part of the genre, especially for a debut release. After all, they’ve always got time to grow. Still, as I said before, it all sounds very much like what has come before it. The song “Better Than This” almost feels like a tribute to “Swing, Swing” by All American Rejects, “Dumb It Down” reeks of Blink 182’s “Stay Together For The Kids” and so on. Not that this is really that bad, if you like those songs you’ll probably like these, but they aren’t really adding anything new to the genre.

“All The Little Letdowns” isn’t really a letdown itself, but that’s only because I went into it expecting harmless pop punk, and that’s exactly what I got. It seems to stride a slightly awkward middle ground, however. If pop-punk isn’t your genre, Junior Achiever aren’t going to change your mind, at least not with this release. Sadly, on the other hand, if you are already a fan of the movement, “All The Little Letdowns” doesn’t have anything new to offer you. It’s a perfectly fine listen, but it’s just nothing game changing. Though if you have the money spare, and you want something to get you ready for when the sun finally does appear, then you could do a hell of a lot worse than “All The Little Letdowns”

6.5/10

Standout Tracks:

Another Stupid Love Song

She’s So Mean

California

Collapse Under The Empire- Find A Place To Be Safe

"Aww, Together They're CUTE"

‘Find A Place To Be Safe’ is the second album release from German post-rockers ‘Collapse Under The Empire’. The follow up to their self produced debut, ‘Systembreakdown’ is instrumental post-rock at its purist, which is at once its main selling point and its biggest flaw.

At its heart, musically this album revolves around the key rock instruments of bass, drums and electric guitar, with heavy use of piano. All these play well off each other well, none hogging the lead position left open by the lack of vocals. As is the way with post-rock, ‘Collapse Under The Empire’ aren’t afraid to call in the help of synth, digital effects and drum machines. Personally, while the drum machine has a nice effect, I’d much prefer to hear their real drummer, who is actually quite talented. The rest of the synths and effects create nice textures in the tracks where they appear, including the times when they appear to be aping an orchestra.

While this is all well and good, I have trouble finding anything original about this album. Everything here is done to a high level of polish, and it’s all very listenable, but none of it leaves a lasting impact. I can’t help the feeling that I have heard it all before. As I said before, this is post-rock at its purist, but they don’t step out of their post rock boundaries in the slightest. Sure, they reach out to the different edges of the genre, from the straight rock instrumentation, to electronic digitisation, from happy chill-out to heavy melancholy, but they don’t go any further than that.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t like this album, I actually really do. The problem is the reason why I like it. I can’t help but treat it as great backing music. This is an album I will enjoy, but only really while doing other things. I can’t find enough here to make it worth sitting down and letting it be the focus of my attention. This is good for the band, as I could see them being able to get their songs used in music and movies for this very reason, but it isn’t brilliant for making them stand out from the crowd.

If you want some well-made post rock as a soundtrack to whatever your doing, then I would recommend picking up ‘Find A Place To Be Safe’. If you are looking for something new and interesting to challenge you musically, then I would look elsewhere.

(Find A Place To Be Safe is released on 27th Nov 2009)

6/10

Standout Tracks:

Crawling

Far To The Part

A Smell Of Boiled Greens

A Place To Bury Strangers- Exploding Head

A Place To Bury Strangers

"Does playing it on the floor make it noisier?"

Exploding Head is a wall of sound, albeit one with a few bricks missing. This isn’t a complaint; in fact it’s something that helps separate them from a lot of other noise rock bands. What I really mean by the holes in the wall is that they aren’t completely impenetrable; they have moments of openness where melodies and a pop sensibility slip through.

The self-proclaimed “Loudest Band in New York” take effects pedal laden guitar, and layer it on top of pinpoint accurate drums, high gain bass and low key vocal lines. This is also the order of how well you hear different instruments in the mix, too. If you are a fan of great singers and heartfelt lyrics, then A Place To Bury Strangers are not the band for you.

A lot of the time, it’s hard to distinguish singer Oliver Ackermann’s voice from the rest of the noise going on in the track. From what I have made out from repeated listens, the melodies are rather generic pop ones, and the lyrics aren’t incredibly inspired either, so don’t worry, you aren’t missing much.

It’s not an easy listen on the noisier tracks, but when that light shines through the cracks in the wall, they can produce some moments of quality. It’s just a pity it seems to be mixed so badly, and those melodic moments are so few and far between.

6/10

Standout Tracks:

Deadbeat

Exploding Head

Smile When You Smile

(Originally reviewed for LUSH Radio:http://lushradioreviews.wordpress.com/2009/10/13/review-a-place-to-bury-strangers-exploding-head/ )