All posts by CharlieC

About CharlieC

My name is Charlie Carroll Jr. and I am currently a senior in American University's School of Communication. I was born and raised in the small, yet bustling, city of Hackensack, NJ. I attended the Bergen County Academies, a magnet science/tech-based high school that is one of the top-ranking schools in New Jersey. While at the Bergen Academies I studied under the Academy for Telecommunications and Computer Science program and interned for The Aquarian, a weekly alt-rock magazine, as part of the Senior Experience Program. In 2006 I was accepted into the University Honors program at American University, class of 2010. I am a Print Journalism major with a minor in Spanish Language. I have studied abroad at La Universidad Catolica de Argentina in Buenos Aires, Argentina where I traveled from the northeast jungles of Iguazu to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. While studying at American University I have remained an active member of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity, serving as chapter secretary for two semesters. The fraternity has hosted a number of charitable events for their philanthropy, Push America, and other organizations, most recently co-hosting a Haiti Benefit concert.

“Repo Men” an Empty Sci-Fi Thriller

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

For Jude Law, the dramatic and thought-provoking sci-fi genre is old news.  That’s not to say that Law has moved beyond the genre, but rather that most would assume that at this point he knows how to do it well.  Law excelled in his past performances in “Gattaca” and “Artificial Intelligence,” but his latest sci-fi endeavor “Repo Men” falls much shorter than its expectations and hype generated by the movie’s promoters.  The director merely threw two talented actors, Forest Whitaker and Jude Law, into a disjointed story that never seems to quite understand its intended tone.

Released around the time of intense political debate over healthcare reform, what might seem “timely” for some is nothing more than empty social commentary (unlike the clear success of “Daybreakers” released only a few months earlier).  The best part about the movie is the chemistry between Whitaker and Law’s characters as they laugh and slice their way through a futuristic dystopia based on sexual and violent excess.

Remy (Law) works in this morally questionable world as a repo man for The Union, a large, greedy corporation that produces artificial organs and body parts at a very high price to its customers.  While the company hands out the empty promise of improving and extending life for those suffering from debilitating health problems, there is a small catch.  If you can’t afford to make the payments on your organ, or “artiforg,” The Union sends its highly-skilled personnel out to recollect the organ, giving little thought to the victim’s survival post-operation.

Remy and his partner Jake (Whitaker) are the best repo men that The Union has to offer, but Remy’s wife disapproves of his job, forcing the former military man to resign for his family.  However, on his last job a faulty defibrillator severely damages Remy’s heart, requiring the company to give him an artiforg that he inevitably has to pay for.  Remy literally has “a change of heart,” and after the operation can no longer cut into the chests of innocent men and women.  His debt piles higher and higher and eventually the young outcast goes on the run with Beth (Alice Braga), a beautiful, young nightclub singer whose body is made up different black market artiforgs.  Together the two fugitives embark on a mission to escape from and take down the system, evading the tireless pursuit of The Union, led by Jack.

What “Repo Men” has in a top notch cast, it severely lacks in direction, tone and character.  In his major directorial debut, Miguel Sapochnik fails at guiding a coherent storyline.  Essentially, Sapochnik cannot seem to figure out whether or not the movie is supposed to be more of a drama or big-budget action comedy.  Law has said that the movie is intended to mix comedic delivery with explicit, bloody sequences as a way to parody or comment on the gore and violence of modern action movies and pop culture.

The story’s progression hardly makes sense at times and becomes a joke itself.  The balance between comedy and gore feels more awkward than anything else.  Particularly misguided is one scene between Barga and Law that uncomfortably mixes sensual eroticism with graphic gore, leaving the viewer even more confused about Sapochnik’s intentions.  Ethan Hawke’s “Daybreakers” attacked the healthcare and resource preservation angle much more successfully with a clear goal and style that was severely lacking in “Repo Men.”

The movie is centered on Law and Whitaker’s perception of duty and service, which comes from both characters’ backgrounds as military men.  The movie attempts to determine whether “a job is just a job,” but falls flat in engaging the audience and making them think.  The only exception to this rule lies in Whitaker’s character, whose senseless love of violence and duty to maintaining order works alongside a personality that is surprisingly funny.

The film amounts to nothing more than a “Blade Runner” wanna-be interrupted with moments of cringe-inducing “bad-assery.”  While the violence feels a bit excessive at time, the shock of this strategy creates fight sequences characteristic of your classic “guy movie.”  In essence, this is the movie’s only appeal, and a weak one at that.

And the Meek Shall Inherit the Earth

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

With the stage lights dampened to a minimum, John Baldwin Gourley, a quiet and unassuming figure, strode onto the stage of the 9:30 Club.  Clad in a red, white and blue hoodie, the shy and pensive frontman of Portugal the Man donned his guitar and approached the microphone.  The crowd roared in preparation for the band’s performance, but Gourley stood on the stage, motionless and silent.  The dimly-lit stage and creeping wisps of smoke produced by the smoke machine added to Gourley’s mystique.  He faced the right side of the stage, tuning out the audience to find his voice, and moments later kicked right into the opening licks of “People Say.”  With little more than his soft, versatile voice, delicate guitar strokes and support from the rest of the band, Gourley became king for the night.

In only a few short years, Portugal the Man rose to the top ranks of indie rock through unrestrained perseverance and a creative spirit that continually inspires listeners and challenges itself with contemplative, beautiful pieces.  Claiming Sarah Palin’s own Wasilla, Alaska as their hometown, the group formed after the demise of Anatomy of a Ghost, Gourley’s first band with Portugal bassist Zachary Carothers.  The members of Portugal packed up their gear and relocated to Portland, Ore. in 2004.  Since that time Portugal the Man has readjusted its lineup and released five studio albums, currently touring in support of their most recent brainchild “American Ghetto.”  The band’s current lineup is comprised of Gourley (vocals/guitar), Carothers, Ryan Neighbors (keyboard/synth), and Jason Sechrist (drums).

From the outset of the March18 show, it was obvious that the show was going to be a collective family act.  The New York four-piece known as The Dig opened the show, warming the crowd up for the rest of the night with a solid performance led by frontman Emile Mosseri.  They concluded their set by bringing all the members of the other touring bands up on stage to perform a song, attempting to fit at least 15 different musicians up onstage.  The artists each played their own unique instrument, ranging from an added tom head to a bottle of whiskey to a manican leg, passionately attacking their instruments (and the song) in a supportive family atmosphere.  Port O’Brien followed The Dig, adding their brand of folksy California indie to the mix, inviting all of the other bands up on stage once more.

By the time the openers had wrapped up their sets the club was filled to the brim with an interesting mix of plaid-and-tie-dye hipsters eager to rock out to the laid-back musical stylings of Portugal the Man.  Following the opener they went right into “And I,” a crowd favorite from their critically acclaimed album “Censored Colors.”  With Carothers swinging his bass up and down, Gourley bathed himself in the red, green and blue strobe lights, lowering the mic and dropping to his knees under the weight of the song.  The band pleased their hardcore fans by playing a number of songs from their first two albums, including “AKA M80 the Wolf,” “Shade,” and “Church Mouth.”  The majority of songs, however, came from the albums that shot them to success, “Censored Colors” and “The Satanic Satanist.”

Gourley remained humble and shy throughout the set, despite cheers and bursts of applause.  Before playing “60 Years” from the new album and spoken as an after-thought, Gourley half-heartedly suggested to his fans that they “download the new album or whatever.”  The statement was less a matter of disinterest and more indicative of Gourley’s shy and polite persona which, unexpectedly, commanded the crowd as effectively as any bombastic act.  After closing with “The Home,” the fan’s passionate and emphatic cheers for an encore brought Gourley out to stage to perform “Created” solo.  Lighters were raised in the air and the crowd fell into silence as he uttered the first line of the song.  Halfway through the sentence, however, Gourley stopped and stepped back from the mic, chuckling to himself.  Once he had composed himself, Gourley told the audience how deeply he was moved by all of their support over the course of the night.

“I just got the chills,” he muttered.  “That’s the first time I’ve ever freaked out onstage.  I almost passed out.  Thanks a lot guys, this is the biggest show we’ve ever played.”

The band sauntered in after Gourley finished the song and went straight into the song “Church Mouth.”  In keeping with the night’s tradition, they brought back the family atmosphere by inviting the other musicians onstage with them to perform a deeply emotional cover of “Strangers” by The Kinks.  For the night, the 9:30 club was turned into more than just a club venue.  It became an intimate family community.

The Search for a Lost Identity

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

For the most part, children are educated in grade school about the founding of this nation through a restricted lens, focusing on poems about how in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue or the American settlements of the English Puritans.  We learn about America’s dark past through slavery and the near destruction of Native American populations.  However, one of the untold stories about the interactions between the first three main groups of people that shaped the nation’s history is the way in which African Americans and Native Americans interacted and mixed with each other throughout American history.  “Indivisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas,” currently being presented at the National Museum of the American Indian, is a wonderful and eye-opening exhibit about the history of mixed-heritage minorities that were significantly influenced by the development of the United States.

The story is one that is rarely told, or at least rarely explained and taught to the fullest extent.  Most people know that each group has suffered significantly over the last few centuries at the hands of colonial settlers, but little is known about the lives and experiences of those who share mixed ancestry and how the social dynamics of their interactions have shaped our perceptions of these people.  The Indivisible exhibit provides a valuable insight into the trials, tribulations, and successes that grew out of these interactions.

Indivisible is much more than just a museum exhibit, but an ongoing project brought together by a number of dedicated organizers.  All aspects of production for this project were undertaken on behalf of the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.  Aside from the larger organizations, a number of dedicated African-Native American men and women contributed to organizing the research through relationships with tribal communities as well as academic researchers from across the nation.

The 20-panel museum exhibit is located on the second level of the Museum of the American Indian, tucked away to a room near the main elevators.  The panels are divided into 4 main categories (policy, community, creative resistance and lifeways) with each panel analyzing a specific topic supported by copies of primary documents, such as original art, old photographs and slavery records.  In addition to the actual exhibit, the organizers of put together a 256-page book that includes 27 essays ranging from the Cherokee Freedmen debate to the effects of Jim Crow policy on the populations.

The exhibit does not boast any specific interactive or engaging multimedia elements aside from a 10-minute video looping at the back of the room.  However, the strength of the exhibit does not lie in the implementation of new technologies, but in the authenticity and details of the personal testimonials shown in the video itself.  In one testimonial, a young woman breaks down crying, saying that for so long a part of her was “shut off” and that she has been deeply moved by her new sense of belonging.  The need to belong and understand one’s true identity is the crux of the exhibit and is a basic human need that makes the underlying theme of the exhibit relatable to almost anyone.

The exhibit, which debuted on Nov.10 of last year, will be presented at the National Museum of the American Indian until May 31.  Following the Washington stint three copies of the exhibition will tour nationwide at a number of museums and cultural centers that will end in March of 2012.

Double Dagger Tears Up the Back Stage

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

Image Courtesy of Double Dagger website

If you were looking for a dance party that runs the gamut of dramatic physical expression, then The Black Cat was the place to be April 22.  Ranging from the synthpop style of Future Islands to the raucous punk mashing of Double Dagger, the Black Cat came alive for one of the week’s biggest and liveliest shows.

The first artist to hit the stage was Ed Schrader, an odd percussionist whose erratic screaming vocals and drawn out bass moaning stood out from the rest of the performers.  Using nothing more than a kick drum, a microphone and a lamp, Schrader rumbled his way through a number of songs.  He created a mysterious persona.  At first glance he appeared to look pretty anti-rock and nerdy with a striped button-down tucked into a pair of khaki pants.  But once the room went dark (save for a single light shining up on his face from the drum) Schrader pounded away on the drum, screaming and chanting.  While Schrader’s act is very unique, the music itself just felt loud, ill-fitting and at times uncomfortable.  At the very least, Schrader’s sound contains that rare quality where you either love it for its bold rejection of mainstream musical norms or you hate it for sounding like a crazy man with a pair of drumsticks in his hands.  Despite his strange act the crowd still seemed to enjoy the enigmatic figure that is Ed Schrader.

The crowd stirred up as Future Islands took the stage, turning the backstage into a fun dance party.  Future Islands takes the emotional vulnerability and synthpop sound of the classic new wave genre and injects it with a heavy dose of raw vocal power.  While the bassist and keyboardist stand still for their performance, the band’s whole show is centered on singer Sam Herring.  Herring pours his heart, body and soul into each song, weaving tales of heartbreak and introspection through the air like a Shakespearian actor.  At one moment, with lips quivering and arms extended, he asked the audience to open their hearts.  The next minute he then fell to his knees, beating his chest to force out his gravelly voice.

Once Double Dagger took the stage, the audience was ready to turn the Black Cat on its head.  The drum-and-bass punk trio from Baltimore exploded onstage in a whirlwind of cacophony, energy and destructively beautiful musical power.  As drummer Denny Bowen tore into his drumset I felt as if my ears were going to bleed from the sheer loudness of the snare and cymbals.  Bassist Bruce Willen threw his instrument around like a madman while singer Nolen Strals contorted his body and wandered in and out of the audience.  Don’t let the glasses fool you, these guys come to a show prepared to tear your face off.

Double Dagger has produced two full albums and several EP’s since the breakup of Strals’ and Willen’s former band League of Death in 2002.  The name Double Dagger doesn’t always get tossed around as much as it deserves, but once discovered will change your life.  Their live performance is nothing less than amazing and forces you to pay attention.  The group has received praise from a number of music critics and even toured with such high-profile acts as The Buzzcocks.

Only a minute into the first song the crowd was converted into one expansive and seething mosh pit, with fans running around and furiously punching the air.  The strength of the pit was especially surprising considering the small size of the room itself.  Strals strolled in and out of the crowd to join in the moshing community.  Whether he was grinding on some unsuspecting woman or wandering aimlessly with a blank stare painted on his face, Strals’ interaction with the crowd will remind you of the beauty of small shows.  Too often fans are forced to stand at a distance from a band in stadiums, concert halls and other venues.  The beauty of Double Dagger’s performance lies in the fan’s visceral connection with the band as both sides of the music experience collided in a celebration of life and community.

The Coathangers Can’t Stop Stompin’

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

In the 1980s, D.C. was the home of a thriving punk scene that churned out such legends as Fugazi and Bad Brains.  While the capital’s rock scene has seen its share of ups and downs throughout the years, it remains ever-friendly to up-and-coming punk bands.  On April 21, in true punk tradition the Black Cat hosted Atlanta rockers The Coathangers along with Sick Sick Birds and (stop worrying and) Love the Bomb.

The night started with a short, yet fun and energetic set by the Washington punk band (stop worrying and) Love the Bomb.  The local group got the crowd riled up with their fast, battling punk guitar riffs and gritty screaming vocals.  It was a bit refreshing to see classic punk spirit and song structures alive and well, with all of its members showing a passion for the genre.  Beginning a number of their songs with the classic “1, 2, 3, 4!” countdown and strumming away with the occasional amp feedback, the group’s stripped-down songs provided a fun introduction to the rest of the night.

The crowd soon grew as Baltimore rockers Sick Sick Birds took the stage, providing their own brand of upbeat garage punk.  The band was riddled with technical difficulties, but as lead singer Mike tended to his guitar, the rest of the band traded clever banter back and forth with the audience about old television sitcoms like Coach and Cheers.  Once the guitar was completely in tune, the singer returned to the mic and busted right back into his excitement, jumping up and down and belting out lyrics with the perfect complementary vocals of his band mates.

Unfortunately for the headlining band, the crowd began to dissipate after the Sick Sick Birds left the stage.  The loyal, local following of the two opening bands translated into a severe loss for The Coathangers.  Although they played to a crowd that was probably no larger than 20 or so people, the all-girl four piece from Atlanta played their hearts out for the fans that stuck around.

Upon hearing their name, it is obvious that these four girls could care less about being prim and proper.  With songs titles like “Nestle in My Boobies” and “Suck My Left One,” these girls hit the stage with ferocity and high-squealing vocals that point a middle finger at anyone doubting their abilities.  The band got its start in 2006 after playing a joke show at a house party and released their first 7” in 2007.  Since that time they have produced two full-length albums, the latest of which was 2009’s “Scramble” on Suicide Squeeze Records.

As the band set up their equipment, it was hard to tell just how much energy they would put into the show.  Keyboardist Bebe Coathanger stood quietly behind her instrument, staring around the room, seemingly disinterested and in a daze.  However, as soon as the music kicked in she came to life.  Throwing her unkempt hair from side to side and contorting her face as she screamed into the microphone, Bebe danced and played her way through the set with explosive energy.  Bassist Minnie laid down her bass grooves in the back while guitarist Crook Kid bobbed up and down and drummer Rusty beat her drumset to death.

It’s almost impossible to define the sound of The Coathangers, minimalist in a lot of respects but energetic and chaotic.  The slower “Stop Stomp Stompin’” quickly transitioned into the fierce, garage sound of “Getting Mad and Pumpin Iron” in which the girls proudly proclaim that they’ll “break your f***** face.”  Their in-your-face attitude and lively stage presence resembles a persona closer to The Runaways than The Donnas, proving that an all-girl band can truly rock out with as much audacity and irreverence as any male counterpart out there.

In With the Old, Out With the New

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

As self-involved egoists, it seems that human beings of every generation, once they have passed that important and deceptively short period of childhood and teen angst, develop a severe case of “Back in My Day,” a condition that tends to increase in severity as the person grows older.  Music journalist Dave Thompson’s 2008 release, “I Hate New Music: The Classic Rock Manifesto” is evidence of this British ex-pat writer’s late-stage diagnosis of this disease.  “I Hate New Music” rails in defiance against the corporate axles grinding underneath the rusting machine of the music industry in a way that, although passionately written, will only play into the hands of other BIMD victims.

Thompson made a big name for himself over the last few decades as one of rock culture’s premier students and critics.  Thompson first began his writing career by publishing his own fanzine on the cusp of the punk movement of the late 1970s.  He published his first book, a U2 biography entitled “Stories for Boys,” in 1984 and moved to the United States five years later.  In his career Thompson has written over 100 books and contributed to a number of notable music publications, including Rolling Stone and Alternative Press.

“I Hate New Music,” in true rock n’ roll fashion (Thompson insists that is the only true way to spell the term) is a vitriolic and unapologetic crusade against what he believes to be the evils of a vapid and talentless modern music scene.  In the book Thompson picks apart the finer points in the era of classic rock, which he defines as lying somewhere between 1968 and the late 1970s.  This piece of heavily opinionated nonfiction amounts to an all-out rant against the music industry that took the passion, innovation and genre-defining character out of rock music.  Thompson blames artists, fans, and of course those big, bad corporations as the downfall for the quality of music (or lack thereof) that people are subjected to today.

The book doesn’t, as you may think, adhere to a strict chronological order, but rather a logical order.  The story begins with an idiom-driven, slang-centric rant of a foreword by rock critic Richard Meltzer.  The rest of the book then follows with Thompson’s reasoning for his argument, defining the generation known as classic rock, identifying its most positive attributes and leading into where exactly everything went wrong.

“I Hate New Music” is definitely an enjoyable read, entertaining the reader as Thompson blissfully reminisces about the days of wanton excess and true rock n’ roll spirit that fostered reactionary, controversial and gutsy artistic expression.  In line with his years of dedication to his art and the love of his life that is music, Thompson provides well-researched, in-depth insight into the interplay between bands, record labels and the social norms that they aim to challenge.  Aside from general social history, Thompson highlights his points through specific case studies of bands, such as Neil Young and Queen, while scattering his other favorites, such as Led Zeppelin, throughout the book to elucidate his arguments.  One of his more interesting chapters examines how music listeners today suffer for not having 8-tracks, which used to force fans to listen to and appreciate the concept of the album as a total package.

For Thompson, the music industry became too much of a corporate process, centered on generating profit and prioritizing production and promotion over music quality.  According to him, all the rock music today is either an attempt to cling onto this scheme of endless copying or a lack of creativity and desire to produce unique music.  While the book is appealing, at times the criticism can seem a bit heavy-handed and completely one-sided.  There is no room for another point-of-view or sort of defense for contemporary music.  As homogenized as the scene is today, to lob it all together is unfair to the positives that have been able to stand out in contemporary music.  Despite this shortcoming, a lot of the criticisms are admittedly tongue-in-cheek and are meant to underline the very real inadequacies of modern rock music.  After reading “I Hate New Music,” you will either be a fresh convert to the cause of nostalgia or a fierce defender of the banal.  Your call.

A Bit of Abbey Road Mayhem

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

While the Beatles are widely known as one of the most influential bands of all time, it’s fair to say that their music lacked that extra bit of gritty “umph” found in many harder rock bands.  Enter Beatallica.  Taking the general song structures and lyrics of Beatles songs and seamlessly blending them with demanding Metallica riffs and thrashing guitar solos, Beatallica creates a unique musical experience that will leave you craving for more mayhem.  Supported by opening band Borracho, Beatallica rocked the backstage at The Black Cat this April 19 with the epic power of Lennon, McCartney, Hetfield and Hammett coursing through their veins.

Borracho opened the show on a somewhat lackluster note.  For the most part, the band simply sounds like a generic and unfortunately uninspiring mixture of metal giants Down and Brand New Sin.  The Washington-based band first came together in 2008 when members of local acts Adam West and Assrockers came together to experiment with a harder sound.  The band released their first single, “Rectify,” on a 7” split with Adam West and has since then recorded a number of other songs for a release on the indie label No Balls.

The D.C. metal band opened to a small crowd (if one could even call it that) with two dedicated metalheads headbanging up front for their entire set.  Despite their hard and heavy sound, the band appeared lifeless for the most part.  With the occasional head nod and bounce the members showed little movement as they worked their way through their set.  The lead guitarist, who looked like a retired Viking, showed the most enthusiasm, yet the music itself left much to be desired.  Although the band marched through their set with general applause and approval from the audience, the crowd amounted to no more than 20 or so people who were simply waiting for Beatallica to take the stage.

Once Borracho finished, it was time for the real show.  Donning regalia reminiscent of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album cover, the band took the stage and headed right into the song “The Battery of Jaymz and Yoko,” a clever, hard-hitting mix of Metallica’s “Battery” and Beatles’ “The Ballad of John and Yoko.”  The lead singer Michael Tierney began bouncing up and down, belting out the lyrics in a voice that sounded eerily close to Metallica’s James Hetfield.  As Tierney bounced up and down, lead guitarist Jeff Hamilton stood nonchalantly to his left, effortlessly manipulating the guitar neck to produce intricately ear-splitting solos.

The crowd quickly grew and began rocking out, completely in love with the marriage of the band’s hilarious lyrics and appearance with fast and heavy musical prowess.  The dedication of their fans, affectionately known as Beatallibangers, explains how the band shot from obscurity into an international cult fan following nine years ago.  After getting his hands on a copy of the group’s debut EP “A Garage Dayz Nite,” a Milwaukee fan made a web site for the band in 2001.  The band gave the site its seal of approval the following year after meeting its creator and learning about all of the fan mail that had been sent to him.  The viral internet phenomenon led the band to international tours and the release of their debut full-length album, “Sgt. Hetfield’s Motorbreath Pub Band” in 2007.  They even recorded an album comprised entirely of renditions of the song “All You Need is Blood” in 13 different languages.  In 2009 they released their second album “The Masterful Mystery Tour.”

The band dominated the stage with songs like “Sandman,” “Revol-ooh-tion,” and “Leper Madonna.”  A few songs into the set the band members removed their jackets to reveal 1970s-style hippie dresses, with the bassist’s covered in marijuana leaves and the singer admittedly wearing one of his grandmother’s dresses.

Beatallica had the crowd singing along for such classics as the slow and brooding “Ktulu (He’s So Heavy),” and anthemic “Hey Dude.”  In addition to these songs, the band also played a couple of songs that failed to make the cut for “Masterful Mystery Tour,” such as the eternally metal, yet wholly politically incorrect, “Please Please Me or I’ll Beat You.”  Beatallica straddles the line of impropriety with their metal songs about partying and beer-drinking, but they do it successfully with a comical tongue-in-cheek style that is sure to ensnare and convert any music fan into a metalhead for a night.

Four Year Strong Set for World Domination

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

Over the last decade the genre of emo has blown up on MTV and into the hearts and minds of 14-year-old boys upset about their recent breakups and the ups-and-downs of being overly dramatic and depressed.  Emo has been split up into an over-abundance of subgenres, but bands such as Set Your Goals, A Day to Remember and Four Year Strong are fighting to revitalize the popcore genre, a mix between pop punk and hardcore, and usher it into a new era.  Four Year Strong’s sophomore release “Enemy of the World” is a power-packed album of ear-pounding breakdowns and melodic, harmonized vocals that make the five-piece contenders for kings of the genre.

Four Year Strong first hit the scene in 2001 when Dan O’Connor (vocals/guitar), Alan Day (vocals/guitar) and Jake Massucco (drums) met each other through mutual friends at Doherty Memorial High School in Worcester, Ma.  After cycling through a few different members, typical of your classic high-school startup band, the group released their debut album “It’s Our Time” in 2005.  The group owes their quick rise in pop-punk popularity in 2007 to the release of their second album, “Rise or Die Trying,” and were signed to the Decaydence label the following year.  After touring extensively the band decided to record “Explains It All,” a cover album of 1990s pop hits, including an impressively aggressive hardcore version of Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic.”  The band is currently touring in support of “Enemy of the World” and will be playing all dates of the Vans Warped Tour this summer.

In comparing “Enemy of the World” to “Rise or Die Trying,” the new album contains a level of vocal depth not present in their previous albums.  Upon first hearing of Four Year Strong, the first thought that came to mind was that it sounded like Fall Out Boy’s “Take This to Your Grave” with a lot more double bass, head-banging potential and the occasional guttural scream.  The vocals have definitely matured a bit, moving away from the sing-songy melodies of their clean, high-pitched vocals to a rougher sound that more aptly fits the voluminous beards and sleeve tattoos of its members.

The album is full of anthemic songs of perseverance and survival through trials and tribulations, such as the opening “It Must Really Suck to be Four Year Strong Right Now” and “On a Saturday.”  There are a lot of chants in every song, but this premise has worked to the band’s advantage throughout their career.  One of the most uniting aspects of live performances in the music scene is the sense of community created by the fans and Four Year Strong has found a working formula in mobilizing that community in a way that brings the fan into the process.

“What the Hell is A Gigawatt” is a short fast-paced punk song about finding oneself and learning how to take responsibility for, and be conscientious of, the self-destructive mistakes one can make.  The song is slowed down for a moshpit-inducing breakdown that is sure to have fists flying and feet kicking.  “One Step at a Time” is an emotionally rich song about coping with the death of a loved one and moving on to a brighter future.  The album’s weakest track is “This Body Pays the Bill$,” another song that fits into the overly-clichéd theme of “the girl that breaks your heart.”

The strongest song of the album is “Wasting Time (Eternal Summer),” with a perfect sing-along chorus and an “ooh-ooh-ooooh” whistling harmony that actually works.  The quick up-and-down strokes keep the song moving at a manageable pace, breaking right before the chorus for an effective dramatic pause that slams the chorus right into the listener’s ear.  Overall, it seems that the members of Four Year Strong have found their niche and helped pave a way for sweaty punk fans to make the most out of their concert-going experience.

Cowboy Mouth brings Mardi Gras to D.C.

By Charlie Carroll
ArtsPost staff writer

Image of Cowboy Mouth by Guy Aceto, Cowboy Mouth Official Site.

“At Mardi Gras, everyone loses their minds to find their souls!” yelled Fred LeBlanc as he stirred the enraptured crowd into a fervor that threatened to tear down the roof of the 9:30 Club.  Masks, colorful beads and classic Mardi Gras flags were strewn across the stage, covering amplifiers and instruments alike.  Hundreds of rowdy 30-somethings ardently cheered the singer/drummer of Cowboy Mouth on as he looked over the audience from the throne of his red Slingerland drum set.

With eyes closed and hands in the air, Fred LeBlanc humbly requested that everyone hug and get to know the person next to him or her.  With all the passion of a Louisiana minister preaching to the congregation, he declared the crowd a community with the sole purpose of celebrating life.  He followed with a countdown from four that culminated in an explosion of energy from the crowd, hands in the air, screaming away their troubles.  Welcome to a Cowboy Mouth show.

After more than 15 years, 2,000 live shows and at least seven lineup adjustments, Cowboy Mouth still has all the raw energy of any younger, up-and-coming band.  The four-piece hails from New Orleans and represents their hometown with all the pride in their hearts.  If LeBlanc were to somehow cut his arm on a splinter from one of the hundred drumsticks he tosses around throughout the performance, it would surely bleed Mardi Gras yellow, purple and green.

The band got its start in the early ’90s, releasing its first album, “Mouthing Off,” on Viceroy Records in 1993.  They hit it big with their 1996 release of “Are You With Me?”, the group’s first major label release on MCA Records.  Since then, Cowboy Mouth has moved from label to label due to some albums’ low record sales.  Despite this, the band has steadily persevered because of the passion of its members and a thriving, dedicated fan base that make album sales insignificant.  Having sold more than 8 million tickets over the course of their careers, they show no signs of stopping.

Their Friday night show at the 9:30 Club opened with a set by country singer Junior Wilson, strutting with his white cowboy hat and double-neck guitar, and singing his brand of good ol’ country blues.  Supported by his clean-cut, gray-suited bassist and drummer, Junior Wilson mumbled out his rolling, bass vocals about troubles with the law, women and the Lone Star state.  Wilson seamlessly mixed his Johnny Cash voice with the intricate guitar work of Stevie Ray Vaughn, whose “Pride and Joy” he covered at the end of his set.

Although Wilson’s performance was appreciated (even with the sometimes ear-splitting high guitar notes and simple, repeated bass line), the crowd only really came alive once the lights went out and Cowboy Mouth took the stage.  LeBlanc’s drum set sat front and center, clearly positioning him as king for the night.  To the left stood lead guitarist John Thomas Griffith in a brown fedora, and to the right rhythm guitarist Jonathan Pretus and bassist Regina Zernay, whose pigtails playfully bounced side-to-side throughout the night.

The group opened with a Fats Domino cover, then into “This Much Fun,” during which LeBlanc stirred the crowd into a frenzy.  Throughout the entire night, his dominance over the audience was unwavering, constantly working the crowd up with hand clapping and screams of “I can’t hear you!” followed by deafening shouts from the audience.   One fan captured the mood perfectly.

“He’s got so much charisma he can command the whole f****** crowd,” he panted after the crowd favorite “Belly.”  “Obama thinks he’s got charisma, but it’s nothing compared to this guy.”

The president could only dream of having the support that Cowboy Mouth had that night. The group’s brand of poppy, alt punk party rock kept everyone on their feet, jumping and dancing for the entire set, begging for more.  With his tongue lapping more furiously than Gene Simmons, LeBlanc beat away at the drums, belting out the lyrics to classic, energetic anthems of “I Know it Shows,” “Joe Strummer” and “Jenny Says.”  During “Everybody Loves Jill,” the crowd ceremoniously threw a barrage of plastic red spoons on stage at the end of the last verse.

The night’s festivities could be summed up as an intimate tribute to the city of New Orleans and the turbulent, carpe diem spirit of Mardi Gras.  In between the tumult of their faster-paced songs, Cowboy Mouth fit in the hometown anthems of “New Orleans” and “I Believe,” the band’s faith-inspiring dedication to the New Orleans Saints, who LeBlanc confidently proclaimed the soon-to-be champions of the 2010 Super Bowl.  He also told the audience why their beloved hometown deserved Mardi Gras with a spot-on cover of Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks.”

By the end of the night, despite all the sweat and hoarse voices that were sure to come, fans demanded an encore, unwilling to call it a night.  LeBlanc capped the show with “Follow Me” and “Disconnected.”  For the audience, the performance amounted to nothing less than a cathartic, religious experience.  In the span of only an hour and a half, the raucous Cowboy Mouth chewed up everyone’s troubles and spit out a masterful live performance, reinventing Washington as the nation’s party capital for the night.