Even though bands create their images based on a certain sound or by conquering a particular genre, it’s always good to shake things up a bit. Experimenting with different music styles is always a risky endeavor, though, since no one — neither the band nor the audience — truly knows how the experiment will turn out.
Some bands base their whole image on refusing to conform to one particular genre — this can be seen in music from The Clash, Pink Floyd and even early No Doubt. Others stick with one formula and they generally play it out because that’s what works, as is the case with the Rolling Stones, AC/DC and Oasis.
This week’s New Noise looks at new music by artists that are daring to step out a little from their comfort zones, dipping their toes into different styles to expand their musical horizons. These types of artists have always been important to the music scene as a whole, for they personify the malleability of music as expression. After all, expressions change — so why can’t the music?
City and Colour: “Thirst”
On June 4, former Alexisonfire guitarist/vocalist Dallas Green will be releasing The Hurry and the Harm, the fourth studio album under his City and Colour alias. “Thirst” is the first single to be released from the album, and it’s definitely a step or 10 away from the dreamy acoustics that City and Colour had established as its sound.
Remember those TV commercials where people would be blindfolded and have to taste-test Pepsi and Coke? Well, blindfold your best friend, play this song after a Black Keys song, and see if they can tell the difference.
From the minimalist production, the driving drums, the simple-yet-insanely-effective guitars and the blues-y lyrics, “Thirst” sounds like a lost Black Keys song, a definite change from the alternative/acoustic rock style City and Colour is known for. Even Green’s voice sounds eerily similar to Dan Auerbach’s, minus the slight distortion.
Fortunately, the Keys-ish sound works wonderfully for City and Colour — by the time the song ends, you’re left thinking “that’s it?,” which is always a good sign. Green keeps things straight to the point and “Thirst” is definitely a song so good that your parched ears will have to hit the replay button (sorry, I had to).
Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine: “Hollywood Goof Disease”
Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine isn’t just a kickass band with an even kickassier band name, it’s the latest project put together by Jello Biafra, former idiosyncratic lead singer of one of California’s very own pride and joy, the Dead Kennedys.
The Dead Kennedys are the perfect pioneering examples of California’s manically epic punk scene, and the band was always known for Biafra’s intelligent, laugh-out-loud funny lyrics.
It’s one thing to be in a punk band and be political — it’s a whole other thing to go into politics. This dude is so hardcore that he actually ran for mayor of San Francisco and didn’t even do that bad, finishing fourth out of a group of 10 candidates.
Thankfully, even though the Kennedys broke up in 1986, Biafra has still been keeping busy and his work with the Guantanamo School of Medicine brings back the frantic snark that the Dead Kennedys were oh so great at shoving in our faces. “Hollywood Goof Disease” is off the band’s latest album, White People and the Damage Done. Biafra’s projects have always found him dabbling in different genres while still staying under the hardcore banner, and “Hollywood Goof Disease” follows in that vein.
The song is most definitely punk rock, but the country-on-speed guitar and drums give the song a psychobilly tinge to it that sounds like The Cramps gone super angry. The lyrics “Why don’t you just die?” have truly never sounded more appealing.
They Might Be Giants: “Icky”
Though Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine tend to dabble in different genres without losing their punk-rock footing, the veteran rockers of They Might Be Giants take things a million steps further and change up their genre and style with virtually every song they release and have been doing so since the band’s formation in 1982. The term “alternative rock” has never been more apt a label than for They Might Be Giants, especially in the literal sense — they literally alternate between numerous genres so often that it’s impossible to label them as anything else. The band’s 16th (yes, that’s 16th!) studio album was released recently — the 25-song (yes, that’s 25!) Nanobots is chock full of different genres that are expertly handled by the band.
Technically, any track off Nanobots would suffice for the purposes of our column, but for argument’s sake (i.e. closing eyes and randomly pointing at a song), we’ll take a swing with the wonderfully non-icky “Icky.”
The track is upbeat and painfully fun, a prime example of the lighthearted vibes that They Might Be Giants have always expertly kicked around. “Icky” also has a vintage, Kinks-like garage rock feel to it with the rhythmic guitars and drums and the flawlessly sprinkled harmonies backing up John Linnell’s breezy vocals.
With a gargantuan catalogue of 16 albums under their belt and 25 songs on their latest release, it might be OK to come to terms with the fact. They Might Be Giants most definitely are giants.
Transplants: “In A War Zone”
One of the many side projects of Rancid honcho Tim Armstrong, Transplants also features rapper Skinhead Rob (or Rob Aston, as I’m sure his mother calls him) and Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker. The group has also dabbled in various genres including ska, reggae, dub and hip hop, but has overall kept its punk sensibilities at the forefront.
A so-far untitled new album is set to drop sometime in May, and the band has released the first single from their album, “In A War Zone.” Now, it would be ridiculous to say that the song is too punk for a punk band, but with regard to the Transplants, “In A War Zone” is definitely harder than what we’re used to hearing.
The song is borderline screamo-metal and is more reminiscent of Rancid 2000 than anything related to the Transplants. Wasn’t “Diamonds and Guns” used in a Garnier commercial?
I guess this is the band making sure no other beauty product will want their music playing the background. Although, if someone could make this track work to a lip gloss commercial, that would be awesome.
Rishbha Bhagi is a graduate student pursuing a degree in communication management. Her column “New Noise” runs Wednesdays.