Radioactivity – s/t

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Rating: ★★★½ ·

While the Marked Men might be on some sort of hiatus due to the busy schedules of everyone involved, Radioactivity at least gives us a glimpse at the glory of old, with half the band represented on the band’s eponymous debut.  The project is filled with leftover tracks from Jeff Burke’s project, The Novice, and he called in good pal Mark Ryan to flesh things out, leaving us with a blistering record of punk rock hits.

“Sickness” opens with that stuttering guitar line that’s pretty prominent in the work of all those involved with Radioactivity, though there’s a soloing guitar line that seems to knife its way through the track.  The vocals push the boundary of raspiness that you get from classic punk rock, though for all intents and purposes, the group’s still leans a little bit towards the pop side of things.  You’ll get that image perfectly on the following two tracks, “Other Life” and “World of Pleasure.”  The latter is definitely one of the record’s standout tracks, pounding furiously in your ears, despite having a catchy delivery of the lyrics throughout.

And you get what you expected on the first half of the record, with the blistering pace of the tunes allowing for the band to demonstrate their songwriting capabilities, while still honing their pop sensibility; this is one of the things I’ve loved about Marked Men and all associated bands. Tracks like “Alright” are perfect for driving, partying or even running; they fit in every corner of your life.  But, what has impressed me about Radioactivity is that there’s a glimpse of what’s to come with the band’s next LP (rumored to be on its way in 2014) near the latter half of the album.

For example, “Alone” has this huge ringing guitar line, with the bass slowly working its way into the fold.  It opens up the space quite a bit, adding just the slightest differentiation to the band’s signature sound.  If you listen carefully, you can hear the guitars working against each other, almost fighting to define the band’s sound.  There’s also the power ballad that lurks at the end of the record via “Trusted You.”  The drums seem to want to escape into a heavier realm, though their steadiness really provides a good backbone for the rest of the song, which remains sort of a heartfelt ode to a lost friend or lover.  It’s actually great on its own, but it’s made even better for the fact that its fittingly unique in the grand scheme of the LP.

I’m a huge fan of the group, even if the songs sometimes seem to blend together after repeated listens.  And that’s the thing with Radioactivity, you’re going to get repeated listens. The songs are too good to ignore, and too catchy to dismiss.  It’s clear that the duo of Ryan and Burke still have tons of tricks up their sleeves to keep me coming back to buying their records.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/04-Locked-in-My-Head.mp3]

Download: Radioactivity – Locked in My Head [MP3]

Mind Spiders – Inhumanistic

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Rating: ★★★½ ·

Inhumanistic is the third LP by Mark Ryan’s Mind Spiders, and it’s the one that I think sounds the most like what you would expect from the former Marked Men leader.  It’s still punk rock, with a tinge of power-pop tossed in for good measure, and it includes a dark bent on both the world and music.

After a brief prelude track, Mind Spiders blast off doing what they do best on “Inside You, utilizing driving guitars and speedy drumming to build towards the release of tension, which always comes with a bit of pop enthusiasm.  Then you’re thrust into “Suicide,” which, despite its lyrical content, is probably one of my favorite tracks on the record.  The chugging guitars are accompanied by a synthesizer, and although there’s a dark tint, it serves the song well, allowing for the inherent hook in the chorus to shine perfectly.

What I didn’t expect from Inhumanistic was a gem like “City Stuff.” It’s a track that surely was formed on an acoustic guitar, leaving a wonderfully hidden melody.  But, instead of going with the easy acoustic ballad, the melody’s been replaced by synth work, using the guitar only to enhance to song where necessary.  It goes right back into the rock n roll with “Electric Things,” though at this point in the record things start to become formulaic for the group.  Now, this doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy it; I like every track on here individually, but as a whole piece, there’s only two instances when things don’t go as expected.  I mentioned one above, and the other comes in the sonically haunting “I Want You.” Again, this is a song that’s relaxed in essence, though the accents try their best to make more out of it.  And it all leads up to the record’s pinnacle single.

As long as I’ve been following Mind Spiders, I’ve loved their ability to edgy riffs with catchy hooks, and no track to date has done such an exceptional job as “Make Make Make Make.”  This song is a fast paced jam from the get-go, with the chorus providing the ultimate emotional release.  This track was built for maximum crowd participation in the live setting, and even at home, you’ll have a hard time not screaming “make make make make” as you’re mopping the kitchen floors.

In the end, Inhumanistic is another solid release from Mind Spiders, but there were a few things that changed the easy 4.5 stars to 3.5.  After three records, you notice some shifts in the band’s overall sound, but this record seems to be really predictable in some areas.  Those areas that aren’t are incredible, and appreciated, but I’m wondering if I’m ultimately going to get worn down songs that seem too similar.  For now, the answer is no; I love the songs here, just looking for a little more variety.  Perhaps next go round.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/MakeMakeMakeMake.mp3]

Download: Mind Spiders – Make Make Make Make [MP3]

Mind Spiders – Meltdown

Rating: ★★★½ ·

It’s always good to know that a rocker never dies.  Mark Ryan’s one such dude, giving it his all in the past with the Marked Men; now he’s refueled his passion with Mind Spiders.  Meltdown is the group’s second album in less than a year, and their latest release for Dirtnap Records has them picking up precisely where they left off–and now with more drums!

On the first few listens, you might think that opener “You Are Dead” bares a strong resemblance to Jay Reatard, as there’s that scratchy vocal, not to mention the way the lyrics are displayed that lets you gravitate towards the notion. But, the usage of two drummers has captured the explosive capacity of the group as a whole, something the aforementioned singer never quite had.  And as Meltdown goes further with “Beat,” the chorus indicates that this is definitely a shout out to punk rock. Chugging guitars push you forward, but the chorus will bring the punk rock all the way home, even as the band steadily pounds onwards.

When you stumble upon “More Than You,” you might literally stumble, as it’s the first Mind Spiders track, on this effort at least, that’s not jagged and dirty.  Yes, there’s a bit of a haze coating the sound of the recording, but lurking beneath is a really nice bit of melody. Not to be a spoiler, but if you’re listening as you’re reading, you’re going to find that a lot more of the tracks on Meltdown resemble this number, as the latter half of the record takes a similar approach to this song. “Skull Eyed” takes on a similar pacing, but there’s definitely a haunting electronic element presence, which displays the risks that Mark Ryan’s willing to take with this group.  I’d be interested to see what this sounds like live, as there’s definitely space to pick up the pace in a forceful manner. “Meltdown” closes out the album with an almost carnival-esque electronic playfulness that continues Side B’s theme of musical exploration, only doing so in the instrumental manner; this all hints that Ryan might possibly be trying to figure things out for the future.

Taken as a whole, Meltdown‘s a solid record, though a little bit disjointed in its sonic construction.  It brings on full-frontal rock n’ roll ferocity from the get-go, giving you a hefty does of energy on Side A.  Side B, however, demonstrates that Mind Spiders are still working out some of the kinks as they continue to forge a path for themselves.  It actually makes for the perfect vinyl listen, giving you two side of a most excellent band. We’ll just have to wait and see which path the group takes as they bound off into the future, but let’s rest assured that even when they’re figuring things out, they’re writing tracks that are better than most of the bands out there.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Mind_Spiders_-_Wait_For_Us.mp3]

Download: Mind Spiders – Wait For Us [MP3]