Review: Amps for Christ – Canyons Cars and Crows

Amps for Christ - Canyons Cars and Crows
Amps for Christ – Canyons Cars and Crows. Shrimper Records, 2014.

As a writing tutor at a local college, I read students’s papers pretty much all day. In recent years, predictably, more and more of these papers have been argumentative essays explaining why marijuana should be legalized. Some of the arguments are quite silly, but every year, I see better, more thought out reasons why legalizing the drug would only benefit the United States.

One of the best arguments against the legalization of marijuana I’ve heard recently is Amps for Christ’s new album, Canyons Cars and Crows.

On the album, Henry Barnes does this Noise-Folk thing, which on paper sounds intriguing. And he certainly does marry this late 60′s/early 70′s folk-as-channeled-through-machines thing. Here’s the thing: I’m a pretty left-leaning guy. Amongst my closest friends, I’m probably the most left-leaning (or second-most, anyway) of the group, and on the To Eleven Spectrum of Political Leftness (which is totally a thing), I rank closer to Russell than to Jayson. I know Global Warming is a very real threat that I’m contributing to just by powering my laptop to write this post, and I think that in pretty much all international affairs, the US should approach diplomacy as peacemakers rather than warmongers. I’m about 2 sticks of patchouli from being a straight-up hippie.

Amps for Christ are well over that line. Barnes sings about humanity destroying the earth. He sings about loving your neighbor. And sometimes, he does it in the same song, such as in “Barely Breathe,” when he sings:

Time will come, when the oceans will rise
And the coldest place seems so nice
And through it all, love is still king
Love your neighbor, it will save your life

It comes off as a song about all the things, and sonically, it sounds like the Velvet Underground, Neil Young, and the Grateful Dead all got together and started playing different songs in the same room.

This isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate what he’s trying to do here. Barnes is into noise, and there’s plenty of that, both in the “Lots of instruments doing different stuff” variety, and in the “I made my machines buzz and glitch” variety, such as in the electronic “bagpipes” in “Hills of Padua.” It’s an interesting experiment, but not one that I found particularly entertaining. The whole album sounds like a bunch of guys got high and started jamming, only half of them were playing production equipment. I’m confident this is not the case, but it’s all I could imagine while listening to this.

Oddly enough, I almost feel like this would be much better as some sort of live performance piece. I could see how sitting in a room with Barnes while he plays with knobs and sings would actually be kind of unsettling, something to pull you out of your comfort zone. But on an album, it’s just noise.

In short, my recommendation is this: if you’re familiar with Amps for Christ, and you like it, you’ll probably like Canyons Cars and Crows. It’s Henry Barnes doing his Noise Folk thing. If you’re not a fan, pass on this one.

Canyons Cars and Crows is available on Shrimper Records.


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Review: Will Stratton – Gray Lodge Wisdom

Will Stratton - Gray Lodge Wisdom
Will Stratton – Gray Lodge Wisdom. Self-reeased, 2014.

“Why sing about death when I almost died? Why sing about life when I’m still alive?”

So begins the title track of Will Stratton’s Gray Lodge Wisdom, an album written in the wake of Stratton’s advanced-stage testicular cancer diagnosis and treatment. He’s better now, and he’s crafted an album about acceptance: the acceptance that we all die, the acceptance that some things are out of our hands, and the acceptance that sometimes, we have to put our lives into the hands of others and trust that they will do what they can to save us.

It’s not a melancholy album, nor is it a celebration. Rather, it’s a meditation; quiet, solemn, reflective. Through his recovery, Stratton rethinks his view of the universe and his place in it. In the title track, he says “Why sing about God when she don’t exist. Compare that to the refrain of the closing track, “Fate Song,” in which he says, “I must thank some god that I’m alive today.” It’s not a huge stretch from atheist to agnostic, but it keeps with the theme the things might just be out of our hands.

Musically, Stratton is a little bit Americana, a little bit folk, and on tracks such as “Do You Love Where You Live?”, a lot bit Nick Drake. While his sound is, as I said, quiet and solemn, it is also complex, with layers of strings over his skillful guitar. It’s the perfect blend of solid musicianship, thoughtful lyrics, and the perfect, most appropriate atmosphere.

Will Stratton’s Gray Lodge Wisdom comes out on April 29th. Check Stratton’s Website for details.


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Review: Grammer – Awesome Knifes

Grammer - Awesome Knifes
Grammer – Awesome Knifes. Self-released, 2014.

Are we still back? Cool.

Anyway, before the site went down again, I was preparing to review Grammer’s self-released EP, Awesome Knifes. The band is sort of a 90′s style post-hardcore 5-piece, and while I’m usually not a huge fan of that kind of thing (What ARE you guys screaming for? I’m old, man…my nerves can’t take it), I really liked this one.

So what do they sound like? Think a less-produced …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead. Well-written, melodic riffs, lots of percussion, and lead singer Maxx screaming like he means it. And I think he means it. This might be my obsession with concept albums coming through, but I feel like Awesome Knifes is about growing up and becoming disillusioned with the world. Take the 1st track, “Astronaww, Man”:

the glories of galactic travel always filled my mind
when I was a child
when I was a small child

Compare this with track 4, “Friends in the Hotel Industry”:

this occupation as a sad man
pays less than minimum wage
the shifts are filled with nightmares
and I’m working late

And the final track, “Cigarette Regimen”:

I’ll build a house on
Blizzard Lane
to store up all of my lies
for the rest of
my life
Qué sera, sera
what should be
will not always be
the future’s not
mine to see
Qué sera, sera

and suddenly one sees a narrative of innocence lost, beaten down by the banality of adulthood.

I think I just leveled up in literary criticism.

In summary: Grammer’s Awesome Knifes is good enough that even as someone who is not a fan of the genre, I was able to not only enjoy it sonically, but on a narrative level as well.

Awesome Knifes is available at whatever you want to pay (even free) on Grammer’s Bandcamp page.


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We’re back.

Listen while watching:

Concert Review/For Your Consideration: MORBID SAINT

On January 30, 2014 at The Foundry in Cleveland, I witnessed a thrash metal miracle…I saw Morbid Saint live.
Morbid Saint
Now, I know what many might be thinking. “Are they some sort of Morbid Angel rip-off?” Or, for the slightly more knowledgeable, “Didn’t they open for Death in the late 80’s?” Unfortunately, neither reaction properly highlights the truth of the matter: Morbid Saint is one of the most underrated thrash metal bands of the underground. It’s true that they did open for Death, but the band has deliberately downplayed this, noting that it was really only two times because they shared Eric Greif as a manager. Regardless, Morbid Saint deserves so much more than just a footnote in metal history.

This isn’t going to be so much a concert review, as a plea for anyone who loves extreme metal to educate themselves on the power of this band. Sure, the show was killer, but the band hardly tours. In fact, the only reason I found out about this one was because my friend (who introduced me to them) happened to see the flyer on their Facebook page a day or two prior. I didn’t even know they were back together, but apparently they started making random appearances a couple years ago, and even recorded a couple new tracks for the Thrashaholic compilation they put out.

That compilation (which I bought at the show, but can be purchased through their website or Facebook page) contains essentially everything Morbid Saint ever recorded: the classic, and supremely heavy debut, Spectrum of Death, and its follow-up that only exists in demo form (but is album-length) Destruction System, along with the aforementioned new tracks. Released in 1988, Spectrum of Death is to this day one of the most vicious and brutal buried treasures of thrash. Existing in that elusive sweet spot between thrash and death metal, the album will certainly call to mind the evil aggression and speed of Slayer, but with the raw brutality of early Kreator, the polished technicality of latter-day Dark Angel, and riffs so headbang-worthy they would make modern death metal bands stand up and take notes. Check out the epic “Assassin” for a prime example of what made the band so special, or the more tightly-compacted (Omen-inspired) “Damien” for something even faster. It’s a full-blown assault on the senses, not for the faint of heart. These guys were throwing down some heavy stuff that, quite honestly, was fairly ahead of its time. The album is definitely raw, but it’s also beautifully produced by Greif, each note coming through with clarity and impact. With amazing riffs, razor sharp guitar tone, sickly shrieking vocals, and inhuman drumming, extreme metal fans owe it to themselves to check out this criminally underrated classic.

The follow-up, Destruction System, is equally punishing, albeit in a slightly different way. It’s a little more muscular, not quite as fast as the debut, but the riffs are incredibly catchy, edging a tiny bit closer to nineties-era post-thrash/groove. Don’t get me wrong, the speed is still there, it’s just complimented by some mid-paced crunching that, once again, will destroy necks through excessive headbanging. “Disciples of Discipline” and “Halls of Terror” are two prime examples. The band must have recognized that trying to top the speed of Spectrum would be a fool’s errand, so they altered the approach slightly while offering something just as heavy and nuanced. Destruction System technically qualifies as a demo because it was never properly recorded (the stop/start of tracking is audible), and as such, the production isn’t quite up to the standard set by the debut. But after a couple listens, it actually kind of grows on you, with an undeniable gritty charm. Destruction System might not be a bona fide classic like Spectrum of Death, but it comes damn close, and in many ways I sort of like it better.

The current incarnation of Morbid Saint (featuring at least two original members) sounded incredible at The Foundry. They were as tight as ever, playing an incredible selection of songs from both of their albums. It’s clear that Pat Lind, Jay Visser and company resurrected the band out of pure passion, a passion that is abundant on stage. The small but dedicated crowd was elated to hear these amazing songs played live, and were rewarded with a performance fueled by a love of aggressive heavy metal. The t-shirt I purchased aptly proclaims “I Saw Morbid Fucking Saint Live” on the back, a sentiment shared by just about every person packed into that small bar on a wintery night in Cleveland. I implore metalheads to check out and support this band (buy the Thrashaholic set from them, or get Spectrum of Death on iTunes), and most definitely see if them if you’re fortunate enough to live near a city they’re playing in. They are an underground gem that deserves to be uncovered.


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