Friday, February 9, 2024

The View On Pop Culture: Hamell On Trial, Singapore Sling, Strung Out (2003)

Hamell On Trial's Tough Love
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Across this great nation of ours, school is back in session and millions of teenagers, whether in high school or college, are carrying music back to the campus with them. Music has become such a seamless part of the everyday lives of many teens that they no longer look at how it is thrust upon them by the major labels. High-stakes marketing, “street teams,” the constant din of advertising, commercial radio placement and movie and television licensing all conspire to flood the young music-lover’s subconscious with one message – buy this CD! There are some of us who still believe that the music is the message, however, and that cheap rock ‘n’ roll thrills can still be found outside of the system. For our campus-bound readers, here are a few artists that you should take back to school with you…

Ed Hamell is not your typical rocker and Hamell On Trial – Ed and a revolving cast of friends – is not your typical rock band. First of all, Ed can’t really sing that well, although he’ll surprise you with a soulful performance every now and then. Instead, Hamell spits out his lyrical invective in a half-spoken/half-chanted cadence that often drives his point home with all the subtlety of a ball-peen hammer. And he’s not that good of a musician, really, an adequate guitarist with a fine knowledge of folk chords, a few rock riffs and a bluesy undercurrent. What Ed Hamell is, however, is a thoroughly enchanting storyteller with a keen eye for human behavior, an expansive vocabulary, and the ability to tie all of his strengths and weaknesses together to deliver a performance stronger and more meaningful than his technically proficient peers.

Hamell’s Tough Love (Righteous Babe) is the sidewalk scribe’s sixth album, a collection of personal observations and musical rants delivered with punkish attitude and high-energy glee. The songs speak for themselves, whether when Hamell revisits his near-fatal car wreck on “Downs” or remembers the victims of mindless hate on “Hail.” Hamell is at his best when he’s raging against the machine, offering more thought-provoking concepts in a single verse than most “socially-conscious” artists manage on an entire album. “Don’t Kill” is a fractured-take on God’s commandment; Hamell’s echoed vocals and a powerful beat calling on Christians, Muslims, and Jews alike to stop the violence in no uncertain terms. “Halfway” is Hamell’s call to arms, though, taking to task those who prostitute themselves in the name of commerce or those who would use patriotism as a cover for their agenda. Hamell admits that he’s “a self-righteous prick with a great big mouth,” adding “but I’m sick to death of mediocrity and lies.” A perfect fit with Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe label, Hamell On Trial is as real as a knifepoint mugging and as welcome as a warm bath at the end of the day.     

Singapore Sling's The Curse of Singapore Sling
Forget about Sweden or New Zealand or New York City ‘cause the real garage-rock vibe is sounding from Iceland, where Singapore Sling is keeping it real with a hardcore blend of three-chord rock, noisy psychedelica and feedback ambiance. Singapore Sling has more in common with other Velvet Underground acolytes like My Bloody Valentine or the Jesus & Mary Chain than with folks like the Strokes or the Vines. The band’s incredible debut disc, The Curse of Singapore Sling (Stinky Records) is a breath of ice-cold air blasting away the pretensions of a stale American alt-rock scene. Guitarist/songwriter Henrik Bj√∂rnsson has crafted an excellent collection of dense, multi-textured songs that offer often-gentle vocals, screaming guitar riffs, layer upon layer of noise and the strongest rhythms this side of Killing Joke. With The Curse of Singapore Sling, the Icelandic cult rockers have successfully bridged four decades of rock ‘n’ roll, tying the ‘60s/‘70s/‘80s/‘90s together with a broken guitar string, Singapore Sling creating a highly-amped blueprint for alternative rock in the new century.
    
Strung Out's Live In A Dive
There’s been a lot of chatter among the musical punditry these days over bands like AFI and the Ataris that have made the jump from the indie world to major label status. For my money, however, they’re missing the boat if they’re not looking at Strung Out. Marginalized by critics as a minor league hardcore outfit, methinks they should get the cotton out of their collective ears and give Strung Out a closer listen. The band’s 2002 release, An American Paradox, proved to be the sort of artistic breakthrough that better-known and younger punk rockers have yet to experience. Live In A Dive (Fat Wreck Chords) captures this incendiary band in its natural element, live and onstage in front of an all-ages crowd of eager young punks.

Live In A Dive serves to map out Strung Out’s musical evolution from fast-n-furious pop/punk plodders to the metal-edged hardcore monster they showed themselves to be with their last album. The live set includes representatives from all of Strung Out’s previous efforts, even throwing in a raging performance of “Population Control” from the band’s decade-old debut. It’s the recent material that draws the most recognition from the audience, however, solid performances of “The Kids” and “Velvet Alley” proving that Strung Out might very well be the next big thing to jump from the fringes of rock and into the currents of the mainstream. (View From The Hill, 2003)

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