THE ANTICS – Running Faster

Hailing from New Jersey, this four piece band borrow influences from Joy Division, The Strokes and a few other post-punk/garage bands to create a debut album that’s unlikely to be very broad in its audience appeal, since their approach to all things post-punk is, at times, rather slapdash.  They appear to have a great bassist; even their guitarist offers a few interesting sounds of an angular nature, but looking beyond that, there’s not always a lot of tightness…and even less in the way of particularly memorable songs.

The album’s best track ‘Overload’ begins with a mechanical beat, joined by a simple bassline and clanging guitars.  By the time vocalist Luke Meisenbacher steps up to the mic, his voice – part unfussy belt, part croon – the band’s love of Joy Division is obvious.  Although many have been influenced by that cult electro-goth band, few – if any – have ever come close to equalling their cold mechanical brilliance, and The Antics are no exception.  Accepting the tune for what it is, though, the bass work is solid in its simplicity with a great tone, while – lurking somewhere in the back – cleaner lead guitar lines add an extra depth to the overall atmosphere [no pun intended].  Also enjoyable, ‘Payday’ has a nice walking bassline coupled with hard rhythmic chords defiantly recalling The Clash’s ‘London Calling’, over which the naturalistic vocal seems well suited.  By the time an organ part joins midway, the arrangement sounds pleasantly full, with the song’s simple swagger being its strongest selling point.

There’s yet another enjoyable bassline at the heart of ‘Take Your Passport’.  Combined with two distinctly different guitar parts – a staccato lead and intermittent crashing chord for rhythm – this is one of the band’s most effective arrangements (again, with hints of Joy Division; maybe a touch of Joy Division obsessives Editors). It almost single handedly proves this band aren’t untalented – they’re just not going to appeal to everyone.

Beyond these two tunes, the band’s output is even more of an acquired taste.  The short ‘Francine’ works around a near discordant one note guitar line tempered by a choppy rhythm and mechanical drum.  While rather angular, it sums up the unrefined elements of The Antics’ style well enough, like an old tune by Wire jammed by The Strokes.  ‘In The Night’, a slightly slower tune which allows Meisenbacher to adopt more of a croon, once again.  Occasionally his unfussy voice brings moments where his wobbling off-key is not always easy listening, eventually marring an otherwise reasonable (though never earth-shattering) tune.  A definite skipper, the quirky ‘Dancing’ sounds like the work of an unfocussed indie-rock band playing in a garage – mixing elements of The Strokes and Frankie & The Heartstrings – with raw results.  The rhythm guitars have some pull, but as with ‘In The Night’, the vocal is rather challenging (particularly so on the chorus) eventually working towards the song’s detriment.

After prolonged listening, the rawness of the vocals and general ragged approach taken on ‘Running Faster’ becomes a little too hard on the ears in places. For a DIY project, though, the album sounds decent enough from a sonic perspective and the bass is often nice and high in the mix. Overall, The Antics have a couple of good ideas (usually their more obvious Joy Division-esque ones) lurking among some largely forgettable material, but while its always easy enough to understand what they’re aiming for, they don’t always leave a lasting impression.

There’s a good EP in here somewhere.

December 2012

BRAINDANCE – Fear Itself

When I first heard this band back in the mid-nineties, they sounded like the most intense, frenzied and adventurous band to be associated with the progressive metal scene. Back then, aside from a handful of American bands breaking through (spearheaded as always by the mighty Dream Theater), it was still a very much niche subgenre.

Obviously, since that time, the prog-metal scene has become huge, with lots of bands springing up; mostly from mainland Europe and mostly with female singers fusing progessive metal roots with gothic metal and neo-operatic influences. In 1995, one of the first bands I heard doing anything similar were Braindance and over a decade later, they still remain somehow more inventive than any of their contemporaries.

Hailing from NYC, Braindance aren’t your typical prog-metal band. Progressive metal it may be, but the band bill themselves as ‘cinematic new romantic progressive new age gothic metal fusion’. Intrigued? Slightly confused? (Anyone who says ‘no’ is a liar).

Aside from their refusal to be musically pigeon-holed, they also create a mystique around themselves. According to an early press release from the mid-nineties, their then bassist, Eiki Matsumoko, claimed to be ‘a multi-disciplined warrior transplanted from Japan, who proceeds with a focused attack unparalleled in the realm of electric energy’. It would appear that everyday sanity is all but a past luxury for this man. Based upon his work on the earlier Braindance releases, he is, however, an excellent bassist; as you’d imagine, his complicated bass parts compliment the work of Braindance’s drumming bod, Notorious (who remained with the band until 1998), perfectly. Notorious (I’ll bet his real name is Lionel), plays a combination of acoustic and electronic drums and by the time I discovered Braindance, he’d been playing in bands on the NY club scene for over a decade. His style of playing is strong, but occasionally erratic, as you’d expect from someone specializing in this style of progressive metal.

Sebastian Elliot (vocals), is a singer with a fantastic range. Sounding like a cross between Queensryche’s Geoff Tate and the late Geoff Mann of UK cult prog-pop heroes Twelfth Night, would ensure that he would be a great front man for many prog outfits; for Braindance, however, this is not enough. For maximum effect, he also sings in a very deep baritone, bringing in a strong goth-metal influence (Type O Negative spring to mind regularly).

Vora Vor is the band’s guitarist and by 1995 was a veteran of the NY rock club scene and classical concert stage. Her playing can only be described as amazing. Playing heavy, crunching riffs interspersed with fast, widdly (technical term) solos, she gives the band a serious cutting edge. Left with the difficult task of holding the band together is Robynne Naylor (the last to join the band in 1996), who creates a blanket of swirly keyboards for Vora to play over.

The first commercial release for Braindance was the cassette only EP, ‘Shadows’, in 1994. Boasting five tracks in over 40 minutes, the band
takes the listener through a variety of moods, each one as intense as the one before. The opening number, ‘Awareness’, kicks in with a woman screaming followed by a chunky Dream Theater style riff, followed by trippy keyboard work. This mixture of light and heavy is typical of the band’s work on this early release (which finally became available as mp3s in 2008).

Of the other songs featured on the EP, ‘To Live In Shadow’ carries on from where ‘Awareness’ finished; ‘All Fall Down’ has to be Braindance’s answer to Queensyche’s ‘Silent Lucidity’ (so that’ll appeal to the soppies among you) and ‘Tears’ is a six minute soundscape of keyboards, which is preferable to it being a cover of that crappy song from Rush’s ‘2112’.

That brings us up to speed and Braindance’s debut full length CD, ‘Fear Itself’. While there are lots of elements here which are similar to the ‘Shadows’ EP, for this album the band have opted for a far more goth-metal approach, with the Type O Negative influences more upfront.
The album begins with a man giving a huge speech regarding aliens landing on Earth and throughout the album, samples are used to great effect. There are samples here of Darth Vader (yay!) and Richard Briers. How did a goth-prog-metal fusion band from New York end up with a Richard Briers sample?!

‘Crime & Punishment’ focuses on the bands electronica influnces. A keyboard led piece, it manages to feel both cinematic and ambient.
With only a keyboard, a pulse beat and samples to carry it, you’d think it’d drag and feel like filler, but somehow it holds the listener’s attention and provides respite from the more intense moments of ‘Fear Itself’. This leads into ‘One’, a brooding ballad which sounds like Pete Steele fronting Dream Theater. The mid section, featuring chorus vocals works excellently with both male and female voices. The only downside is that is rather brief. The title track is mostly instrumental and has a pulsing nature on the slower sections. While essentially a showcase for Vor’s guitar, it features brief, Yes-inspired vocals.
‘Compound Fracture’ is a very much a centrepiece for ‘Fear Itself’. This thirteen minute epic features some fantastic guitar work. Rhythmically, it’s one of the album’s most complex pieces.

For me, the true standout moments include the slightly arabic feel on the vocal melodies of ‘Only A Moment’ and the goth-pop of ‘Voices Are Calling’, which turns all neo-progressive rock at the end, like a hybrid of Shadow Gallery and classic Yes (reprising the vocal section from the title track). In reality, though, ‘Fear Itself’ is a disc with something to offer most fans of progressive metal.

If you’d like to know more about Braindance, visit their website.

January 2010 (Some material written for Fastlane magazine, late 1996)


Released on Mute Records in 2008, this second album by New York’s A Place To Bury Strangers is a twisted, almost torturous ride. There are moments where the listener is beaten into submission by a barrage of multi-layered guitars, driven by distortion. Somewhere among the noise, inspired equally by Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, Oliver Ackermann’s vocals waver in an out like a man drowning in sound. On most of the album, his voice remains buried below the music, his lyrics barely audible – but that voice is necessary as a point of aural focus. The blanket-of-noise approach is a key feature in the band’s sound, featuring on a number of songs, at least in part. In short, A Place To Bury Strangers are rarely easy to listen to. The opening track, ‘There Is Nothing’ sets the tone for most of the album, with vocals buried under guitars, but its pace makes it somehow captivating.

While the sheets of feedback and distortion are cranked up to ear-bleeding levels during parts of ‘Deadbeat’ and ‘I Used To Live My Life In The Shadow of Your Heart’, ‘Ego Death’ manages to temper the feedback-drenched squalls of the band’s noisier side (slightly) with a dark eighties, electronic feel. At times, Oliver is still using his effects pedals to levels which could be considered extreme, but despite this, there are signs of obvious songcraft bubbling just below the surface. These signs of musical ability are even more evident during ‘Smile When You Smile’ which features some sharp bass work (courtesy of Jono Mofo) somewhere in amongst the density.

It’s not all challenging though. At the centre of ‘In Your Heart’ and ‘Everything Always Goes Wrong’ there’s a mechanical bleakness carrying a spirit of Joy Division. The title track shows similar mechanical coolness and ‘Keep Slipping Away’ is a near-perfect piece of goth-pop. It’s a marriage of ‘Pornography’ era Cure and the lighter parts of ‘Psychocandy’ by Jesus and Mary Chain, which is played with so much love, you’d be forgiven for thinking it could be an unearthed obscurity from 1983.

These guys are likely to be met with open arms by MBV fans (particularly given Kevin Shields’s long periods of inactivity). The lighter gothy parts of their work are those with the most appeal – and as such could get the band a slightly broader audience, but on the whole, ‘Exploding Head’ is a record which requires patience and time.  Only then will the rewards begin to be reaped.

January 2010