Sunday, August 17, 2008

Scars On Broadway

Written by Fantasma el Rey

As System Of A Down takes a break and we all await their comeback album we have three separate projects from the four men who propelled System to hold us over. System front man Serj Tankian has his solo career, bassist Shovo Odadjian has his side band, Achozen, and guitarist Daron Malakian and drummer John Dolmayan have pushed forth with Scars On Broadway. As Serj’s solo work has him holding his roots and expanding upon them so has Scars On Broadway expanded and grown in many ways from seeds planted by System.

Scars On Broadway self-titled CD opens with “Serious” and sets the pace and tone of the album. The fifteen songs are fast and hover around the three-minute mark, hitting your ears and attacking your brain with a ferocity that will make your head spin. In what seems like no time at all, track four (“Stoner Hate”) is up and you’re still on your ass thinking what the hell has happened? Darin has said his piece and gone before you can turn the lyrics over in your mind but that’s perfectly fine because it forces you to play the songs over and over again, sorting all you’ve heard.

What sets Scars apart from System is heard right from the start as Malakian swings his metal-edged axe with a rock ‘n’ roll twist through every song. Relaxing, bending notes, and going a bit mellow on tunes like “Insane,” “Whoring Streets,” and “Babylon” while letting lose and running wild on romps like “Exploding/Reloading.” With Dolmayan behind him delivering a solid battery, the faster tracks give a running feel with repeated, sped-up chord progressions, flashy solo runs, and quick stops; Dolmayan follows Malakian closely laying down shuffling beats of thunder as well as jazz time skips.

Malakian’s vocals have matured as his songwriting skills have grown and his guitar playing expanded. This mature voice is best displayed on “Cute Machines,” where his vocals are damn near popish. At first you may think it’s a guest vocalist but he reassures us that it’s him as he raises his voice, unleashing that trademark high-pitched scream then into his wonderful soaring wail. His songwriting growth is evident in the fact that he wrote the entire album, music, and lyrics without the usual hand of Serj on either. Daron’s lyrics remain fresh, edgy, political, and concerned for the world around him while the music contains a more electronic vibe using not only keyboards but also organs and melotrons. Daron also handles the duties for all these instruments except of course the drums.

Every sound and influence works well, producing many odd gems such as “Chemicals” with its Alice In Wonderland chorus and nod to the electric weirdness of Devo. “Kill Each Other/ Live Forever” tips its hat towards latter-day Beatles songs while “3005” has a weeping, country guitar. Then there’s the funky darkness of “Enemy” that really mixes things together, opening with funky guitar licks and bass lines then moving into an almost southern rock mood and back to a steady drum driven dance beat. “Universe” keeps the funk feel as Malakian delivers his lines like a futuristic Bob Dylan and Dolmayan stomps out his rumble drums at a machine guns pace.

Scars On Broadway pull from all sorts of music fields and if you listen you can hear most of them as Malakian and Dolmayan look the direction of not only heavy metal, funk and punk heroes but ‘60s icons. It seems like it wouldn’t work but it does, and you can hear it all from Slayer-esque guitars to Arthur Lee and Love-like lyrics dealing with frustration and a world in chaos. Scars blends them well and comes out with something familiar yet completely unique, dark, moody, and intelligent. I can’t wait to hear what the sound of System’s next disk will be like with its members exploring and expanding their musical knowledge and wisdom.

Hercules and Love Affair

Written by Tío Esqueleto

Disco is not dead. Just because a bunch of stoner (yet somehow aggressive) rockers from Chicago blew up a pile of Bee-Gees/K.C. and The Sunshine Band/Gloria Gaynor records in 1979, doesn’t necessarily make it so. Disco simply went into hiding after that. It went on vacation to Europe, spent some time hiding out in the warehouses and lofts of NYC, and in the bedrooms, house parties, and high schools of Detroit, until it eventually emerged stronger than ever, ironically and all too fittingly, right back in Chicago, a place it has called home (“House”) ever since.

Jump to 2008, Hercules And Love Affair is a collaborative effort headed by New York DJ/producer Andrew Butler, with Antony (of Antony and The Johnsons), Kim Ann Foxman, and Nomi, lending vocals and guidance along the way. This self-titled first album celebrates all things dance music, and is a travelogue through disco’s rarely chronicled, underground sabbatical.

A few tracks worth mentioning are, first off and rather appropriately, “Hercules Theme,” a sexy Donna Summer-inspired ditty, doused with sweat, laden with frantic, funky brass and dripping with intensity. The music evokes images of the sexy dancing poppies from The Wiz (you have your imagination and I have mine!), while the lyrics are a simple, repeated chant detailing the recent accolades of the would-be demi-god it was penned for.

Next, Nomi shines on “You Belong,” a love letter of sorts to Detroit’s Inner City, an outfit founded by Detroit techno pioneer Kevin Saunderson in the mid ‘80s. Insert this track anywhere in their seminal 1989 album, Paradise, and one would be hard pressed to pick out the imposter.

Songs like “Blind,” the album’s first single, and “Raise Me Up” are post cards from disco’s European vacation, in particular its prolonged stops in Italy and Germany throughout the early to mid 1980s where the music relied a bit less on the organic, and a bit more on the electronic with sequencers taking center stage, setting it apart from its American counterparts at the time. Classics such as “Magnifique” and the Italo classic, “Come On Closer” by Pineapples instantly come to mind. Throw in Antony’s vocals, which here are less his usual contempoarary Boy George croon and more like accompaniment to classic Giorgio Moroder, and the picture is complete. Had I not heard of Antony and The Johnsons first, I would have assumed this Antony was an underground God, graciously lending his voice, getting one more go-around at a hit 12”. Honestly, and I’ll say it again, all I could think was Pineapples’ “Come on Closer.”

Now would be a good time to say that while I may rely heavily on comparison and “sounds like,” by no means is it all throw back and regurgitation. It is more respect and homage then it is anything else, and, still, there is plenty of youth and originality offered here, as well. Tracks like “Iris” with vocals provided by Kim Ann Foxman and “Easy” are a nice reminder of the ‘new’ on display here, as well as the aforementioned influence and ode. The domestic CD release includes two additional tracks from 2007’s stand-alone 12”, “Classic” b/w “Roar.” Here are the two reasons why so many of us have been waiting patiently for this full-length album to finally arrive.

Hercules And Love Affair is masterfully produced by Butler and Tim Goldsworthy, cofounder (along with James Murphy) of DFA Records, making them yet another platinum addition to the DFA family. A perfect fit.

This album triumphs as a travelogue from disco’s lesser-known past, filling you in on what you missed. If you are one of the many people who naively assumed that disco died with all those smoldering “Disco Duck” records on the south side of Chicago back in 1979, you were wrong.