Student Life Archives (2001-2008)

Album Reviews

Bernell Dorrough

The Evolution of Energy
Geffen Records

For fans of:Rage Against the Machine, At the Drive In, the Nation of Ulysses

The debut album “The Evolution of Energy” from L.A.’s S.T.U.N is an incendiary, high-energy political manifesto set to a searing mix of guitar, bass and drums. Yet while the power of the music is undeniable, the intended political message is obscured by a lot of simple buzzwords and catchphrases, leaving the listener confused as to just what this rebellious band is rebelling against.

The album begins with an introduction-a robotic female voice speaking in avant-garde riddles over a sheet of pure noise. The intro seamlessly segues into the first song on the album, “Movement.” Vocalist Christiane F. shouts, “The space between our bodies has been corrupted!” like a mix between Zach de la Rocha and Perry Farrell, and the rest of the instruments come in with a jagged, distorted groove. The song stops and starts over and over in a unique fashion before building to an anthemic, fist-pumping climax. The next two songs fall into a similar pattern, with danceable post-punk beats on the verses and intense, jump-up-and-down choruses. Political slogans such as “The only solution/That speaks for everyone/Stand up for the conclusion/Revolution!” abound.

The undeniable energy of the music-a mix between Rage Against the Machine, At the Drive In, and Swedish post-hardcore anarchists Refused-motivates the listener into an eager trance, but the lyrics fail to deliver on their promise. It is hard to tell exactly what makes S.T.U.N. so unsatisfied with the way things are. There are hints at what the band wants to fight against-traditional gender politics on “Watch the Rebellion Grow,” suburban ennui on “Boredom,” people who aren’t nice to one another on “Love and Chaos”-but while problems are seemingly illustrated, no solutions are given.

Despite the lack of follow-through on the band’s politically charged lyrics, the album is full of highlights. The veering tempo change from the verse to the chorus on “Here Comes the Underground” is rousing. The choruses of “Love and Chaos” and “Watch the Rebellion Grow” will stick in listeners’ heads for days. The guitars are jagged and noisy throughout the album but by no means off-putting, and the rhythm section maintains a nice, dance-worthy groove throughout. Special kudos go to S.T.U.N. for a cover of Wire’s 1977 classic “Reuters,” and the 30-second blast of “Illegal Operations,” following in that seminal band’s footsteps.

With “The Evolution of Energy,” S.T.U.N. has released a promising debut. Like many young bands, though, they need to mature a bit before they’ll be nearly as important as they think they are. Grade: B- Final Word: Rebellious band is better with hooks than politics.

Various Artists
Saddle Creek 50
Saddle Creek Records

For fans of: Dischord Records, K Records, Kill Rock Stars Records

Omaha’s Saddle Creek Records, much like Washington, D.C.’s Dischord, has long documented a thriving local music scene making waves just below the national consciousness. With several of the label’s bands receiving a lot of press and recognition in the past year-the Faint, Cursive, and especially Bright Eyes-the label has commemorated its success with “Saddle Creek 50,” a sampler featuring the most prominent bands of the Omaha scene.

The album is a two-disc set featuring one previously released song and one new song from all of the bands currently on the label’s roster. Disc one begins with new wave synth pop revivalists the Faint, who contribute “Worked Up So Sexual” from their album “Blank Wave Arcade” and the unreleased “Take Me to the Hospital.” The Faint maintain a sense of humor about themselves while being very serious about making music that could be construed as silly. The result is fun dance music with an angry edge.

Disc one continues with the lush, laid back pop of Now It’s Overhead and Rilo Kiley. Both bands contribute songs that are delicate and pretty, but with just the right amount of fuzz and angst. Following them is Cursive, who contribute the stunning, nakedly emotional “The Martyr,” from their “Domestica” album. A tale of a failing marriage set over slicing distorted guitars, the track is probably the standout effort of disc one. Their unreleased track, “Nonsense,” adds horns and cello to the noise of guitars, resulting in a clatter that is reminiscent of some of Tom Waits’ work.

The highlights of disc two all belong to Conor Oberst, the most recognizable face from the Omaha scene and Saddle Creek Records’ resident star. The tracks from his post-hardcore band Desaparecidos crackle with adolescent anger and effectively convey the frustration of youth living amidst suburban sprawl. Bright Eyes, the project which has led some overenthusiastic critics to call Oberst the “New Dylan,” closes out the album with two soft, wistful tracks. The mix of folky intimacy and punk rock anger in Bright Eyes’ music makes it something special.

“Saddle Creek 50″ also includes songs from Azure Ray, Son, Ambulance, Sorry About Dresden, and Mayday, who create various types of indie pop with varying quality. As a sampler, it is priced cheaply, with two discs of music for less than the price of one. As such, it is a bargain, and a good way to check out one of the most important scenes in indie rock before it either implodes or is corrupted by mainstream influence. Grade: B+ Final Word: A good, cheap way to check out some of the coolest bands around.

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