December Singles Round-Up
by Ron Wadlinger

Is it December already? This year has come and gone sneaky fast, and with the blur of 2011 behind us, we’re already in the early midst of year-end wrap-up season. But the fact that the calendar year is grinding to a halt doesn’t mean that there’s any less singles out there waiting to be heard. Ever mindful of this reality, we’ve decided it’s time to deliver one last singles round-up for 2011 featuring three discs that arrive from very different places on the geographic and sonic maps.

Fat History Month, A Gorilla EP (Sweaters and Pearls)
Obviously, the first and most prominent obstacle you’ve got to overcome with this Boston-based duo is the band’s name, which might take the prize for the worst I’ve come across this year. If you can get past that (if I can summon the strength, you can too), you might find yourself grudgingly admitting that Fat History Month is okay. The four songs on this 7-inch EP fall near the math-rock end of the spectrum, but it’s a sound that’s not totally devoid of soul.

Lead-off track “A Gorilla” is the best of the bunch, a song that starts off as a quiet creeper and seamlessly builds into a soaring patchwork of dirty, slow guitar riffs and punchy drums. The sound is stark, with just guitar, drums and one quiet, almost understated, vocal track, but there’s something refreshing about the clean and clear sound. While “B” follows the same soft-loud trajectory, the song’s morose tone shakes it up enough to keep it from getting boring. The flip side is dominated by “Heart Takes a Beating,” which features a melodic vocal that works well in the context of this dynamic guitar workout. An untitled instrumental fourth track that sounds suspiciously like an unfinished epilogue rounds out the EP. It’s worth noting that the material on A Gorilla represents the band’s early material, recorded in early 2009, and accordingly might serve as a good introduction for those interested in the band’s debut LP, which was released earlier this year.

Univox, “Tonight” (Green)
Univox’s latest record came billed as “progressive power pop,” a descriptor that maybe carries some baggage. In the case of Philadelphia’s Univox, it’s actually not too far off the mark, although perhaps it would be more palatable to call it “proggy pop-rock?” Anyway, it’s really rare that you hear pop music with a dark edge that doesn’t come off as cheesy or contrived. With “Tonight,” Univox not only avoids those pitfalls, but it actually manages to put together a great song. “Tonight” hits hard with a boatload of hooks that float just above a rhythm section that pounds out an insistent, driving beat. The song’s layered harmonies are strong throughout, with the highlight coming interestingly enough near the song’s beginning, when the drums and bass drop out, leaving only a clean guitar to accompany the multi-tracked vocals for a few near-transcendent moments.

The B-side, “Rug Stain,” isn’t as instantly grabbing as “Tonight,” and on first listen suffers from having too much going on in its short time span. It’s got a decent number of nice enough moments, though, and subsequent spins find the mini-rock opera to be more agreeable, if not an all-time classic. And with an A-side so good, Univox can be forgiven for taking chances with the flip. While these songs come in a sweet package, they may not be for the squeamish, as evidenced by their complex (for pop songs) structure and sometimes seedier lyrical tacks. For fans of edgy pop, though, this is one to check out.

Really Loud Hamburgers, Dudes Who Like Food EP (Florida’s Dying)
Another entry in the bad band names parade, Really Loud Hamburgers have a pedigree that might carry some weight with readers of this page. A sort of Alabama underground super group, the Hamburgers feature members recognizable from Thomas Function and Amber Alerts, among other young Southern noisemakers. This quartet fits in nicely with the party bands (think of your favorite local basement venue) of the Florida’s Dying roster, even if they might be a little more on the raw side of that contingent. This is pretty basic, snotty two-guitar, bass and drums punk stuff, but these guys know how to make that sound good. The proceedings are definitely juvenile—the first song on the EP is called “Sucking Off Tards,” after all—but there’s something inherently fun in these jams, especially the too short blast of playful pop aggression that is “Hate Crime.” If you’re looking for simple kicks, they don’t get much simpler than “Comic Books & Tater-Tots,” which, judging from the song’s lyrics (almost entirely a refrain of “comic books and tater-tots”), is an almost-genuine meditation on the lives of those who know way too much about those two subjects. “Saturday Night,” is more of a classic punky pop song, the kind of ham-fisted anthem you’d expect to end an EP like this. I’ve yet to test this theory, but Dudes Who Like Food sounds like the perfect companion to a 12-pack of Black Label.