Diamonds in the Rough

Music You Should Hear… Or Shouldn’t

By Nick Schwab

A Place To Bury Strangers—Worship [Dead Oceans]

The shoegazers, A Place to Bury Strangers, can often be called a retooling — in this case of The Jesus and Mary Chain and Spacemen 3– but this comparison is not a restriction, but rather a compliment. They are a band that also essentially creates drug music that is laced with effects pedals, blazes of distortion, and all that other fun stuff to piss off a thousand year old man.

On their first two full-lengths they can make the hairs on the back of your neck duck and run for cover (like on the gothic squall of “To Fix the Gash In Your Head”) or can lift from The Cure’s song “The Baby Screams” (such as the good, but-too-close-for-comfort “Keep Slipping Away”). Worship, their latest album, steps away from these blitzkrieg-style bashers for ethereal, sweet-tooth melodies.

If their first self-titled full-length album felt like being strung out from barbiturates in its depressive trash-can like pounding, while their earth-shattering next, Exploding Head, felt like LSD in sound with its amplifiers turned up to 12 (because it’s one more than that clichéd phrase,) Worship feels like the sensations of ecstasy: sexy, lush, and even tangible. It’s like dying, going to heaven, and waking up just after the album ends, Wizard of Oz-style.

Beachwood Sparks– The Tarnished Gold [Sub Pop]

The Sub Pop record label could be called the Wise Man of independent music. The label that started as the home of Nirvana and the grunge movement has moved in many different directions since: from the folk melodies of Iron & Wine, into the Americana of Fleet Foxes, to more of that sweet noise in No Age and Pissed Jeans.

Beachwood Sparks is one of the bands that helped the label get a foothold in the new millennium with their cosmic psychedelic hymns to love that can act as a balm to the summertime (or really anytime) blues. Calling it the music of the new-age love generation may seem cliché, but it is that because it is honest and true.

It may not be as lively as some of their earlier albums (self-titled and Once We Were Trees) but the jump-starting track, “Forget The Song,” sets up the rustic atmosphere and embraces one with its anti-lament— “Hope that spring melts the winter in my heart”– and one feels like it could turn Jack Frost into a summertime slushy.

Hawthorne Heights—Hope [Cardboard Empire]

Hawthorne Heights’ brand of screechy emo/ punk-pop has always been dressed up well, but the vocals hold it back to being often thought of as polite. While they have the structures of the subversive and unique hardcore punk/ post-rock igniters of the scene, the band often uses uninteresting scream/sing structures that it repeats ad-nauseam.

One who listens knows they often get their guitars to wail appropriately (like on “New Winter”) and their structures are creative, yet they feel a bit harmless each time those vocals want to kick in. This is the reason why their instrumental albums are much better examples of their skill when they are shooting forth with a dynamic aggression and do not have that accessible vocal-pitch grating through the horizon.

Even in terms of alike bands, Hawthorne Heights does not have the same throttling kick of Thrice or Thursday, or the turn-on-the-jets anthems of Sparta, or even the blunt honesty of other masters of accessible-sounding emo, such as Cursive. Yet, one has to say although they may not deserve the hate they sometimes get in some circles, they don’t quite deserve the praise they get in others.

Public Image Ltd. — This Is PIL [This is Pil- PIL Official]

In their first album since 1992’s This What Is Not, this project of former Sex Pistol John Lydon is an accessible oddity.

Since it does not have the dirge-like screech of their early works like “Second Edition,” songs like “This is PIL” echo their dance side of past songs, but not quite to the extent of “This Is What You Want (This Is What You Get).”

This balance of their post-punk and dance periods is plainly seen in other songs such as “Terra-Gate” that contain the careful social and political critiques that Lydon is often known for, such as this key refrain on “One Drop”: “We  come from chaos, you cannot change us/ Cannot explain us, and that is what makes us/ We are the ageless…”

Then there are songs like “Out of the Woods” that play on expectations by using a grooved and rhythmic approach and a spurting vocal. The whole album makes one glad they are back and one hope they don’t take twenty years to do another.

Although one can envision a mainstream audience turned off by Lydon’s unusual vocals and the semi-long run time of many of the tracks, not to mention the f-the-system politics, one knows that no matter how much PIL seems more and-more accessible to fans’ ears, it’s still really not too many…. And that is why we love it. It’s the ying and the yang of music.

Reach DCP freelance writer Nick Schwab at

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