Aural Pleasure

Robbers & Cowards
Cold War Kids
(Downtown Records)
Buzz bands. I typically find myself wanting to blatantly hate them purely to resist trends, but in the end, the endless amount of press they receive is usually warranted. Last year, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah came completely out of left field with their distinctively shaky sound. At any given time, there’s always going to be that one band that is being splashed in magazines and being talked about on music websites and blogs.

This year is no different. While bands like CYHSY are hibernating, the Cold War Kids are one of the groups poised to fill the temporary void. Although released in 2006, Robbers & Cowards, Cold War Kids’ debut full-length, is sure to have considerable relevance among indie scenesters this year.

This Fullerton, California-based quartet’s indie appeal is dynamic with their piano-driven, smooth melodies. Imagine Jeff Buckley with a much more amplified backing band. And on some tracks, such as “Saint John,” a White Stripes feel clearly shines through.

Starting out strong with “We Used To Go On Vacation,” the album loses some of its flare as the disc winds to a close and gets lost around the hypnotic track, “Pregnant.” Despite such missteps, this album is a strong debut from a band that will surely be packing in crowds everywhere in 2007.

— Denise Blaz

Recently, Blender magazine — which we all know to be a source of brilliant musical insight — said this about My Chemical Romance’s latest, The Black Parade: “They’ve created the Sgt. Pepper of screamo.” Someone should find this critic, Jon Dolan, and kick his ass for being a condescending dick. You can add his name to the list of every single equally condescending critic who insists upon calling MCR “emo” even though they share little except a penchant for eyeliner with the bands so typically dismissed with that label.

The Black Parade is one of the finest concept albums of the last 20 years, more than earning its comparisons to Queen’s A Night at the Opera (which MCR cite as an influence), and, more topically, one of the three best albums of 2006. If it’s emo or screamo, then Freddie Mercury, who poured his heart out on Opera and almost every song he ever recorded (just like MCR singer Gerard Way here), was nothing but a whiny bitch. However, Mercury will never be called a whiny bitch, and neither should Way.

Heavily influenced by Opera, Ziggy Stardust, The Wall, Tommy, and every other great rock opera, The Black Parade is also distinctly My Chemical Romance, thanks to producer Rob Cavallo (also responsible for Green Day’s own rock opera American Idiot). Queen’s presence is always felt, but not in the way it is with acts like The Darkness. Here, it’s in the anthemic choruses, the singing guitar solos, and the willingness to stylistically shift multiple times within and over the course of several songs.

The result is 13 stunning tracks, bound not by style, but by Way’s blunt lyrical beauty, his aching voice, and a vague storyline involving death, and a search for the courage to face life. “I am not afraid to keep on living / I am not afraid to walk this world alone,” Way sings on the last listed track, “Famous Last Words.”

If The Black Parade is emo, then maybe we’ve grown too cold to matter anymore.

— Cole Haddon

Nitzer Ebb crafted synthesized bass lines that sounded like the Neptunes trying to play Metallica riffs on a keyboard, and Douglas McCarthy’s vocals gave pegged-pants proto-ravers something to shout along with.

It was electronic body music (EBM), and it might as well have been Nitzer Ebb’s very own subgenre. Singles like “Murderous” and “Let Your Body Learn” took techno’s icy pummel and put a hard-bodied personality to it, doing for the Detroit sound what it couldn’t do for itself; this was a favor returned by Richie Hawtin and Carl Craig, who both included NE’s “Join in The Chant (Burn)” on recent mix discs. This exhaustive set of singles and remixes reveals how the band came up with a sound so simple and direct early on, and how it took on a life of its own in dance-floor remixes.

It’s true — Nitzer Ebb couldn’t even top it, as electronic body music yielded to larger trends in alternative rock and the band itself fizzled. (In fact, by the late ’90s McCarthy was living in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, working at a mall and looking to start a traditional rock band.) And yet, the third, import-only disc of Body of Work contains modern-day remixes, and the group reunited for a memorable performance at the Movement Festival earlier this year, proving that people were ready to join the chant again.

— Hobey Echlin

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