When Gainesville polit-punks Against Me! hit the scene with their debut seven-inch, Crime as Forgiven by Against Me!, and their riotous and upbeat full-length Reinventing Axl Rose in 2002, hordes of anarchists, gutter punks, and DIY basement bros across the nation clambered aboard their train.
The band was more than just a punk outfit—they were a movement, and they shared their ideas and opinions with a sense of humor. They lit an activist spark with their blistering anthems and they fostered a sense of community through music. They played shows in small, crammed spaces, with the audience becoming participants in the performance—it was direct action, participatory democracy, and anarchist revolution as a punk show.
The admiration they received was so strong that fans have held them up to the standards set by Axl Rose and its era ever since.
Not counting their acoustic EP and live record, two full-lengths have come and gone since the days of Axl Rose (2003's As the Eternal Cowboy and 2005's Searching for a Former Clarity), and with each album the band have evolved both musically and ideologically.
Their songs are no longer as rough, their steadfast antiwar/anticonsumerism ideas are no longer the backbone of every track. And with their new album, New Wave, the band has made the bound-to-be-criticized move to a major label. They don't have the same youthful, idealistic passion—but they're still passionate. They're just on a different ride, a new wave if you will. From the anthemic title track to the ridiculously catchy "Thrash Unreal," Against Me! are exploring music with a lighter heart. But they're still willing to emotionally bleed for the fans they've connected with ("The Ocean"), and they still make observations about our current political chaos ("Americans Abroad" and the slightly tongue-in-cheek "White People for Peace"), even if those observations are less pointed than their previous manifestos.
The Against Me! of New Wave aren't striving to be a movement, they're happy just being a band. And that's okay. Because they're a damn good one. MEGAN SELING
Against Me! play the Capitol Hill Block Party on Sat July 28.
NICOLE WILLIS AND THE SOUL INVESTIGATORS
Keep Reachin' Up
(Light in the Attic)
I'm rarely impressed by tarted up "retro" groups. They're usually kids trying too hard or hopefuls who get overhyped as sounding "exactly" like some specific period. Even if they get a passable look going while aiming for that period's sound, if the crap songwriting doesn't kill it, the big, bright contemporary production does. So, normally, I couldn't care less. Then I heard Ms. Nicole Willis, singing with the Soul Investigators, just nailing the hell outta early '70s modern SOUL!
Their collaboration, Keep Reachin' Up, first issued last year in Europe, is packed with midtempo modern soul and crossover groovers—all "A" sides—with only a few not-too-distracting funk flourishes. The songs are thoughtfully arranged, with occasional strings, and Willis's voice bounces around gracefully with no flashy dynamics or gangly vibrato. And Keep Reachin' Up maintains its brilliant soulful simmer when held against soul produced circa 1969–1971. The pesky production is just about right, like the Daptones' take on King label funk: The edges have a bit of tooth and it's just a tad overdriven for proper (period) punch. But it perfectly suits their songs' late '60s/early-'70s informed-American-soul coolness.
That this group makes nearly perfect contemporary modern soul/crossover is remarkable. In fact, it's a nice jump for Willis, as she was previously producing contemporary R&B/club action. As for the Investigators, they've been playing for 10 years or so, with a couple solid funk LPs and a handful of 45s, but Keep Reachin' Up is a welcome step forward. MIKE NIPPER
BIG A LITTLE A
Aa (BIG A little a) are best experienced live. Their percussive tangents and trippy noise manipulations aren't really the building blocks of catchy pop songs, even if they make for sweaty, transcendent live sets. Their debut, a white-vinyl, one-sided 12-inch had nothing on the kinetic excitement of the basement show where I bought it. Their latest release, GAame, comes closer to capturing that energy—if only because it comes with a DVD of music videos and live footage.
The music itself is Aa's best recorded work yet. The percussion is resonant and clear, the digitally striated samples and synths are alternately feral and chemical, and childlike chants and primal screams are well mixed throughout. It's still not as moving as Aa are in concert, although tracks like "Good Ship," "Manshake," and "Thirteen" come close.
As for the videos: "Thirteen" mixes live footage of the band performing at one of Todd P's warehouse shows (look for the author in the front row around the 1:45 mark) with digitally saturated, backward running shots of pink feathers floating and drums rolling around a sun-soaked Brooklyn. "Time In" finds the band's titular letters battling some violent Xs in a kind of warped Sesame Street interlude. "Fingers to Fist" depicts a bizarre scene of wilderness survival. "Uracle" hallucinates on the geometry of the Pentagon and the colonialist implications of Alex P. Keaton. Live recordings from a handful of shows best testify to the spirit of their performances.
If GAame isn't a wholly successful translation of the experience, it's still an artful document of the band's sounds, visions, and feats. ERIC GRANDY
BIG A little a play the Comet on Sat July 28.
T.I. vs. T.I.P.
After last year's mammothly successful and beloved King, T.I. now finds himself in the classic precarious position of producing his post-world-beating record. Like many great and/or popular artists before him, T.I. deals with this situation by hanging a conceptual skin over his new album, an approach which, for other artists, has yielded such intense vortexes of creative madness as Around the World in a Day and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. For his new album, T.I. vs. T.I.P., the man born Clifford Harris has chosen to further explore the somewhat ill-defined internal dichotomy between his thug and celebrity selves debuted on the song "T.I. vs. T.I.P." from 2003's Trap Muzik.
Things begin stirringly, as the first of three narrative-driving "Act" introductions sets a tone as indulgently ridiculous as Pink Floyd's The Wall, with a similar combined sense of crushing stardom and scarring personal trauma. Unfortunately, the rest of the album does little to flesh out the record's roughly sketched conflict, with the majority of the songs sounding like the songs on any other T.I. record. Fulfillment of dubious grand artistic designs aside, T.I. vs. T.I.P.'s tracks range from truly great ("Help Is Coming") to unintentional parody ("Da Dopeman") to just adequately bounce-laden (lead single "Big Things Poppin'").
When the album's purported core themes are put front and center, things get truly strange and interesting. "Act III" finds the twin protagonists embroiled in a heated and ridiculous meeting at a mirror (which ends with the sound of glass breaking), and the next song, "Tell 'Em I Said That," finds them united in a discourse on the culturally damaging effects of faux-criminal rappers. The record's suddenly emotional finale, "My Type," is more like the epic self-mythologizing of T.I.'s oft-referenced peer Jay-Z than any of his own past work. It's an assured ending, full of self-satisfied gravitas, to a conceptually jagged album. SAM MICKENS