Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Interview: Dan Sartain

This is a discussion I have been meaning to have for a long, long time. With a musician who has long maintained my curiosity since a girl I was dating at the time threw on 'Join' that beautiful day we got into a car accident in earthly Lake Place, NY. It was fitting. Ever since then my love goes faster than a rocket for Dan…He was brave and kind enough to let me bother the shit out of him for a few days. This is the conversation that took place. 

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SHOM) Hi Dan, before we get too deep and cerebral into our discussion let’s just start with; If you were to write your own epitaph, what would you have it say?

DS) I thought you said we wouldn't get deep this soon! (laughs) All I would want it to say is "Proud Father".

SHOM) This has been bothering me for years, what the hell do you say at the beginning of the song ‘P.C.B. 98’?

DS) "Hey, Shitboy! Whatcha gonna do now?" At the time I was working at Domino's Pizza. I used to work with several gentleman from Turkey. English was their second language, and they hadn't quite grasped the art of curse words. They knew that "shit" could be used as an insult; they also knew that calling someone "boy" is degrading. When they wanted to insult you, they would call you "shit boy". I thought this was an absolutely glorious insult I had never heard anyone else use before. It became an inside joke in the workplace. I was joking around with John Reis, then it became our inside joke. To this day we still call each other shit boy. I don't know man. It was just funny at the time. I didn't think the joke would have legs, but I still say it to this day. 

SHOM) I know you created the crack-whip sound on the Western Hill’s ‘Rawhide’ by slamming a slab of meat from the butcher shop you work at onto a mic’d up concrete floor, so what was the technique for the crack-whip sound on the earlier Dudesblood’s ‘Rawhide Moon’? 

DS) The answer to this one may not be as exciting as you were expecting. We just used some stock sound. 

SHOM) With Western Hills you’re up to 10 studio albums and you’ve had an impressive two-decade run as a heavily DIY lone musician from Beatle burnin’ Alabama, what has been the best and worst part of this experience so far for you? 
DS) You know, the Beatles burning thing is really embarrassing. But there is another side to the story. The man you're referring to was named Tommy Charles. He was a radio DJ in Birmingham for very many years. They never actually burned Beatles records in Birmingham though. The fire marshal shut that down. Any footage you see of burning Beatles records did not take place in Birmingham. Birmingham has a very shameful history, especially in the 1960s. If I may, I would like to play Devil's Advocate on behalf of Tommy Charles. Tommy Charles was a friend to rock and roll. He spun early rock and roll records in my hometown live on the radio as early as rock and roll records were made. I guess you could call him a shock jock. By the time the Beatles came around, rock and roll was 10 years old. I think for guys like Tommy Charles The Beatles represented a Changing of the Guard. For the original rock and rollers, it made them uncomfortable and feel threatened. It seems quite silly now.

As a person from Birmingham that loves old rock and roll records, I've had internal struggles about my feelings for Tommy Charles. On the one hand, he brought rock and roll to the airwaves. On the other, he was kind of an asshole for what he did. I'm a huge Beatles fan but I also have space in my heart for Tommy Charles. I believe at the end of the day he was a show-man. I think the whole Beatle burning thing was a publicity stunt and he didn't foresee this being his lasting Legacy. They never actually burned Beatles records in Birmingham. What he did do was have a lot of Beatles records steamrolled and buried in a small town east of Birmingham called Roebuck. I never met Tommy Charles, but I have many friends that knew him. They said that he had no hate for the Beatles. What he did have was a lot of PT Barnum in him. He just wanted attention and ratings, and he got it. I don't think the criticism of him is unfair, but I do think that it is unfair to paint him as a enemy of rock and roll. 

Birmingham is a weird town. It's my home and I don't really want to live anywhere else. That's not to say that I don't have my problems with it to this day. At this point it's just the devil I know. I've always found it to be cliquey. I never felt fully accepted there. You kind of have to go out a lot and kiss everyone's butt and tell them they're great in order to have people at your shows. It's like a goddamn abusive relationship. But I always come back, and I always love it. 

SHOM) Back in 2014 you and Jacob Turnbloom of Mrs. Magician gave birth to a little side-project that had you release a great two-song EP. Did you guys mean for this to just be a one-off or were there plans for more in the future that have never came to fruition? 

DS) Jacob is a strange guy. I absolutely love him. We have exchanges at least once a week. He always writes me and has these kooky ideas. He's one of the most prolific musicians I know personally. Most of the ideas that he or I have never come to fruition. Sometimes they do. There's a lot of distance between Birmingham and San Diego. I tried to live in San Diego a couple times. It never really worked out. I still feel like my greatest musical soulmates live there. I count Jacob among them. All those Southern California guys are so laid-back it makes me wonder how they get anything done at all. Somehow they always do. I honestly believe that some of the greatest music of my lifetime was created there. Those people are goal-oriented, but super chill at the same time. I guess the two things don't have to be mutually exclusive. When you travel a lot your heart gets spread out. A big piece of my heart will always reside in San Diego.

SHOM) My favourite album cover of all time is Muddy Waters ‘After The Rain’, what’s yours? 

DS) The Geto Boys. We can't be stopped.

SHOM) Your 6th record ‘Too Tough To Live’ was Dan at full down-stroke Ramones mode, would you say this phase came in more as a necessary means of catharsis following ‘Lives’ or was it as simple as you getting a runners high off the down-stroke? 

DS) After we made Dan Sartain Lives with Liam Watson at toe rag Studios, I felt like that was my pinnacle. I learn so much from Liam. After working with him it was like a demon was exorcised. I felt like he got the best out of me in that vein of music. Basically I felt like I couldn't top that. It was time to switch modes completely. I was coming to the end of my twenties and the beginning of my thirties, and I wanted to hang on to my youth. I felt like doing everything harder and faster would be my Fountain of Youth. I allowed myself to nurture my most juvenile thoughts. In a way, that phase of my career also felt like an exorcism. I didn't want to be a whiny emotional arthouse rockabilly kid anymore. I felt the need to prove myself in other ways. To whom I felt the need to prove myself, I don't know. I didn't feel like my previous formula was so precious that I couldn't change it. 

SHOM) I saw an interview with you and a German skeleton during a tumultuous time that had you teary-eyed and honest as hell, so I have to ask, what albums do you think are the envenom for a broken heart? 

DS) that was a tough time for me. I was Rife with inner turmoil. I was going through a breakup and I hadn't realized yet that behaving that way only alienated my friends. I was disappointed that working with The White Stripes didn't really lead to bigger things for me. Now I realize that it was my expectations, and that alone, which was causing my inner turmoil. I was still at a point in my life where I blamed everything else for my problems rather than take accountability for them. I felt like I was expected to always overachieve. Mentally I had to move the goalposts in order to feel like I was winning. I not only looked at music as a competition, but an all out War. I realize now that that was a ridiculous thought. I was taking myself way too seriously. 

To answer your question though, The Ramones brought me out of it. Specifically the demo version of 'I don't care'. It's not like that was my first Ramones phase, but it suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks. That footage you were talking about with the skeleton was actually taken at the Ramones Museum in Berlin. It is a small but staggering Museum. I guess I didn't fully realize the power of simplicity until that point. I also didn't fully appreciate the complexity of what the Ramones were actually doing. It seems simple, but I know very complex musicians that couldn't hang in the Ramones. For instance Clem Burke from Blondie was the drummer for The Ramones for one show before he was fired. Clem Burke is a very respected person in his field. He's among the most celebrated drummers I can think of. He couldn't hang with the Ramones though. 

SHOM) It’s well documented that you have a penchant for all things old and eccentric, is there anything in the modern world you love and champion that might be a surprise to those of us who only know the surface level you? 

DS) I do certainly like old things, old ideals not so much. I don't know how to say this without pussyfooting around the subject… but I like being able to eat in a restaurant and go to movies with black people. 

SHOM) Has your daughter shown an increased interest in music as she gets older? What tunes get her goin’? 

A) my daughter absolutely loves music. Even at Age 3 she has very diverse taste. Friends since one of her favorite songs is Pineapple Princess by Annette Funicello. She likes all that Disney princess stuff too. She's obsessed with the Wizard of Oz and Dorothy, but she also really likes Buddy Holly. I hope she doesn't follow in my footsteps toward a Rock and Roll Lifestyle. I hope for better things for her than that. Rock and roll is fun and everything, but making it your identity the way I did is stupid. 

SHOM) Is there an unexpected moment from any song existing in the ether that you can pin down as your favourite or just something that makes you smile ever time you hear it? I think of Lee Hazelwood’s quip at the end of the song ‘Greyhound Bus Depot’ of “Look at her standin’ there with chilli all over her dress... if I knew her better I’d get her a puppy.” 

DS) once a song is recorded and published, I don't ever want to listen to it again. By the time my songs reach the ears of the public they are dead to me. Occasionally I'll listen to them so that I can remember how to play them live, but they aren't a part of "Who I Am" anymore. My latest recording is always my favorite. I got to work with one of my favorite artists, Ganksta Nip. Nip has become a friend of mine over the years. He is a rap Legend. I've gotten to work with many great artists throughout the years, but this guy invented an entire sub-genre of rap music. He has gold and platinum records on his walls, but somehow I never made it out of the Underground. Our Song "Where is Candyman" is currently my favorite song. Until the next one. 

SHOM) How did the collaboration with Ganksta Nip come about? You’re not the type to be bogged down by comfort-zones and all but did working with thee progenitor of Horrorcore feel like it came with its own set of unique intimidations and limitations or did you just make like Alan Vega and do whatever the fuck your wanted to?

DS) His real name is Rowdy. I think we're on a first-name basis now, (laughs). We've been friends for several years now. I was a fan of his before I even knew about him. Let me explain. He wrote some of the best music for The Geto Boys. I suspect that he ghost wrote a lot more songs that I like that he wasn't credited for. I've always been a big fan of rap, but I respected it as an art form enough to stay out of it. Until now. I always wanted to work with Rowdy, but I could never come up with a good enough idea to justify making it happen. I attempted to work with him several times, but the ideas I had weren't good enough. When the trailer for the new Candyman movie came out, I wrote him to get his thoughts on it. He seemed as excited about it as I was. It's a good trailer. I hope the movie is just as good. When I knew that we were both excited about Candyman returning, I guess I knew it was time to make something actually happen. I didn't really want to rap, but I didn't feel like a guitar sample was a good enough reason to put my name on the release alongside his. I decided to step up to the plate and try to rap. Who cares if I get made fun of. Who cares if I sound out a place. I'm secure enough in my place as an artist to step out of my comfort zone, as you said. I'll rap in my car. I'll rap in the shower. Why not do it in front of a microphone?

I knew if I put my name on it, a small but loyal fanbase would pay attention. I've got to work with lots of great musicians, but Rowdy invented something. He invented something that people still copy, even if they don't know it's him They're copying. He's still putting out good material. He might be better than he ever was. I know he feels he is. Some of his newer work is some of his best. I just want more people to know about him. He said some pretty crazy stuff. He's just a normal guy though. He likes horror movies and video games just like everyone else. He has a unique gift. I think he really stands apart from his peers. I respect him as a poet. I know that's really strange to say considering his lyrical content. I find beauty in it. I find humor in it. I love that he has no filter at all when it comes to writing lyrics. I just wish he had a wider base. He has gold and platinum selling records on his wall, but he still remains unknown to many people. I find that unacceptable. If there's anything I can to get his name out there, I'm going to do it. I've never really tried to be an artist that made political statements. I really respect artists that do, I just never wanted to be one.

This Record came out the same week the riots happened due to George Floyd's death. Where is Candyman is not a political song in in any way. It just happened to coincide with the movement that is currently happening. As shallow as the song is, I felt it was our message of racial Unity. At the end of the day, it's just a couple of guys that really like Candyman. The time frame in which it came out is coincidence. We could have made this 6 years ago, or six years from now. I'm glad it came out when it did. It was not intended to be a statement, but Rowdy and I both acknowledged the significance of it in that way.

SHOM) Songs like ‘Mr. Shorty’ by Marty Robbins, ‘A Boy Named Sue’ by Johnny Cash, ‘Talkin’ Karate Blues’ By Townes Van Zandt and of course Alli Guthrie’s ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ all tell of a peculiar story in a sort of a spoken word delivery, do you think you have a song that strikes the same vain? Do you have a favourite within this style?

DS) My speaking voice isn't raspy or cool enough sounding to do something like that. I did try to hire someone to do something like that for Western Hills though. We asked several genre actors to do a song like this with me for Western Hills. We approached William Shatner, and all kinds of people. At one point, Tom Wopat was going to do it. Those talks dissolved, along with our album's budget. If we ever hear back from William Shatner, or Lee Majors, I'll make it happen.

SHOM) Besides the current state of things, what’s stopping you from playing that show at Pasquale’s Pizza? Any chance We’ll get to see you in Canada again or is the chance fat?

DS) I would be too busy stuffing my face to play a show at Pasquale's (laughs). As far as Canada goes I rule nothing out! If you're going from coast to coast in America, playing shows along the Canadian border makes a lot more sense sometimes.

SHOM) Have you got your ears to the ground on the Australian punk scene at all? There’s something in the well water out there, they’re no Hot Snakes but Eddy Current Suppression Ring is getting things done!

DS) I don't know much about any scene anymore. I knew I would get old one day and become out of touch, what I didn't know is that I wouldn't care if I was out of touch.

SHOM) This isn’t a question, just wanted to thank you for turning me into the demo version of ‘I Don’t Care’, it’s so dismissively snotty and primitive!

DS) It's one of those things that is so simple, you hate yourself for not coming up with it. Even though that song was written before I was born, I'm envious of how stupid and effective it is.

SHOM) Chuck Berry once duckwalked his way over to you at a Casino show when you were a youngster and sang to you, do you think that had a significant impact on you in anyway?

DS) I wasn't that young. I was 25ish when that happened. He was already my hero at that point. I did see Jerry Lee Lewis when I was really young. He came out and played the halftime show for a minor league football team in Birmingham. I didn't really care at the time. I think I just wanted the cheerleaders two come back out. (laughs)

SHOM) How have you been spending the last 5 months besides putting out a new record and running a historical barbershop? Any silver linings to this strange time for you to draw upon? 

DS) Life has become incredibly difficult for me during this time. I'm facing some of the most heavy obstacles I've ever faced. My needs mean very little in the grand scheme of things. I did get to record and you record at Sun Records in Memphis, which was a dream come true. I haven't really been the same person since we did it. It made me feel like anyting in the world that I want is at my disposal. It made me feel like I can manifest anything I put my mind to. If this is the end of the world, arrivederci, baby. I had a blast.

•  Ω  •

SHOM) I ended our few days of messaging back and forth with the following:

Let's steer this runaway tram back home, Dan! Any final thoughts, feelings, complaints or grievances you's care to impart on to the lost souls of the world? Again, a big thanks for taking some time to chew some fat with me, and thanks for the music. Keep sane and happy with your loved ones and good luck with the Hippodrome, until I hear from you again…

DS) Right on, Chris! If I figure it out I'll let you know. I'm just in the same boat as everyone else. Writing has always been my outlet, and I'm doing more of that now. My best to you and yours. Thank you for your thoughtful questions, it's nice to know that people are still paying attention to me after all these years!

Dan released an album this year and as always it's well worth your time, energy, money and complete focused concentration.

Here is the "Where is Candyman?" song released this year by Ganksta Nip and Dan Sartain:

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Vassafor - Vassafor III, To the Death (2020)

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New Zealand's soil is no stranger to dredging up some filthy and uncompromising death metal over the last few decades and Vassafor has always been at the forefront of this auditory barrage, along with the likes of Heresiarch, Diocletian, Witchrist, and Vesicant to name a few of the prominent forces within the Kiwi stratosphere.

Vassafor is one of my favourites out of the bunch, consistently being a barbaric force within the arena of death/black metal and with the newly released Vassafor III, To the Death I'm even more bullish. This album is a big breath of fresh air in a genre that sees a lot of futile attempts at invoking any real atmosphere, which Vassafor has done in spades on this record, giving lengthy songs ample room to move around a cavern of densely layered guitars, mollifying and calcified under the weight and plod of the drumming. Everything is recorded and produced perfectly, harkening to a much more underground sound, nothing plasticky or over-produced to be found on here, pure old-school filth and sonic evisceration that lends itself to be one of the better death metal albums of the year by my count. Absolute penetration!

Vassafor III, To the Death (bandcamp)

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Spike Fuck - The Smackwave EP (2019)

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Here's a really janky one for this blog, neither touching the spectrum of genres I normally post up on here but hey I have a taste that goes much beyond the borders of what's baked into the DNA of Severed Heads Open Minds since I created this blog 10 years ago…

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A good buddy of mine turned me onto this one knowing that it would be something I'd be into and he was perfectly right and I revere him for it. The EP's title is a direct nod to the type of genre Spike Fuck of Australia is championing, which she has described as an impersonation of a washed-up middle aged rock star attempting a comeback in the 1960's or 1970's. Seems accurate, straddling the line between personification and uniqueness, of the halcyon days smothered in fog machines, fluorescent lights and clubs that smelled of sweat, semen and cigarettes and half-shut eyelids. This music is absolutely infectious, coming across at times like Jonathan Richman of Modern Lovers, or floating around Lou Reed's deadpan delivery and structures that nod to the Velvet Underground & Nico, or a more minimal Joy Division playing through Duran Duran songs with Rowland S. Howard's dismal driving guitars.

This might be something for you to get into, or it might not. Doesn't matter, your loss, pal.

The Smackwave (bandcamp)

Monday, August 3, 2020

Primitive Blast - Animalistic (2020)

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Primitive Blast as a name for the band really shows total awareness of ethos, even moreover that the name of this EP is 'Animalistic', which it is. These Aussies know exactly what they're going for, a clear vision of an almost primordial sounding mix of Mental-era hardcore with a stripped-down and raw punk sensibility, delivered in an almost stomp like cadence a la bands like Judge, Close Shave or even Unified Right. A primitive blast it most definitely is and just another very sharp arrow in the quiver of the Australian punk scene… I don't understand what's in the drinking-water down there but it's been a consistent hotbed for a plethora of good bands. And I mean good as an absolute understatement. Give this a try, and if it doesn't click you're probably just soft… and that's okay too.

Animalistic (bandcamp)

Monday, July 27, 2020

Drown - Subaqueous (2020)

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Here's an album I could hardly find a flaw in even if I were to be truly vicious, truly picky and up my own ass in a tizzy of pretentious elitism. It's very well devoid of any faults as it sets out to do one thing and to do that thing very well: To create a sonic representation of what it would feel like to be crushed by the oceans weight through virtue of glacially placed funeral

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It's heavy and it's bleak despite its penchant for dipping into very thoughtful and melodic passages, but alas never quite sacrificing any of its crushing weight, a death grip of floating guitars bounce around a vast expanse of atmosphere created through plodding drums, the space between and a bellowing vocal delivery as heavy and desperate as the music itself. It's production is bang on, so thanks for that. I don't know if I've cared this much about a straight funeral doom record since Ahab's 'The Call of the Wretched Seas' and I commend its ability to simultaneously pacify and stimulate. Get into it or just flounder, punk!

Subaqueous (bandcamp)

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Divide & Dissolve - TFW (2020)

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Divide & Dissolve are a two-piece – Very loud and supremely glacial doom and drone encompassed of Takiaya Reed and Sylvie Nehill of Melbourne, Australia, who met and united under the bond that they are both of indigenous background and began to create music, pounding and hypnotic, as a means to lay down the bedrock of their creative outlet, beliefs and messages. All of this is accomplished through a dense wall of sound that utilizes Takiaya guitar and saxophone drone over top the churn of Sylvie's drums, it's powerful and transporting and I'm eager to hear more than just this one song off of TFW.

I don't know where it's going, but I'm all in…

TFW (bandcamp)

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Bloodshot Bill - Get Loose or Get Lost (2020)

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Montreal's legendary Bloodshot Bill strikes again and can still cut the mustard better than almost anyone else in the genre out there, the nostalgia in a bottle jukebox rockabilly croon of Bloodshot Bill is about as authentic as it gets, and his guitar is sounding so good on this one. This album just came out, but it resonates with a certain potent accuracy the sounds of 70 years ago with flourishes of modern panache within the frenzied minutia. Can't wait for the days when I can watch this man pour his sweat and heart out on some dingy bar stage in Toronto and maybe even catch a rare cover of Hasil Adkins 'No More Hotdogs'. The idea is simple, accept no substitutes and get loose or get lost!

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Ruin Lust - Choir of Babel (2020)

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Another 20 Buck Spin release to lay at your feet, and it's another begrimed mixture of tonal ferocity and sonic dissonance via the mode of fusing together equal parts death, doom and black metal with overlaying tinge of crust wrapped around the carapace of reverb. I hate to draw another comparison to punk or hardcore, but the overlapping sound and feel sounds like all those old metal bands that worshipped and embraced the raw and sloppier aspects of the early thrash/punk/hardcore production styles a la Slaughter, Bolt Thrower, Obituary, Carcass, Terrorizer, etc. Ruin Lust aren't really pushing any boundaries on Choir of Babel, but it is succeeding excessively in where it's meant to, it's ferocity and heft, and the right choice in production is what sets it apart from weaker links within this ilk.

Choir of Babel (bandcamp)

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Skeleton - Skeleton (2020)

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The formula on this self-titled is an easy enough one to pin down, a grab bag influence of first wave black metal riffs and vocals with early thrash and hardcore passages a la Venom and Bulldozer and tempo shifts with a barebones structure of early Entombed death metal and a fraction of the meatiness that Bolt Thrower had with some of the rough around the edges punk of all those bands. I was healthily skeptical of this debut release from Austin, Texas, but the more spins I inevitably cycle through, almost out of compulsion, the more I accept its unavoidable filthy and unrefined charms. it's hard not to be a sucker for an amalgamation like this, and it's done well to boot. Dig in, creeps!

Skeleton (bandcamp)

Monday, July 13, 2020

Ars Magna Umbrae - Apotheosis (2020)

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It's a bit early on this one, as its set for release in late August and as of now there's only one song up on the bandcamp page, but Ars Magna Umbrae released an uncompromising slab of slavic sounding black metal back in 2018 called Lunar Ascension and it was mostly overshadowed and or overlooked. Polish black metal that's built up on layered dissonant riffs that wade through an icy terrain of ambient passages and a crude and cosmic atmosphere, very little to not like here. I, Voidhanger Records continues to be reliable!

Apotheosis (bandcamp)

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Convocation - Ashes Coalesce (2020)

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Convocation's debut record 'Scars Across' was one of 2018's best in the arena of metal, without question, and a lot of people got that wrong last year but what can you expect a from a flock of dorks that put Sleep before Thou in the same year… Has everyone lost their goddamn skull? "But Chris" you tell me "opinions are meant to be subjective, that's what's so beautiful about them, kumbaya and Hakuna Matata, my man." and I'll simply look at you and say "No."

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Finland's Convocation released Ashes Coalesce a few days ago through Everlasting Spew Records and it stands firmly as another staunch example of how to craft a song that feels heavier than a dead dog and how to adeptly maneuver around lengthy tracks without becoming frivolous and tedious through use of some impressive range. I'm purposely trying not to delve too deep into this as far as praise (or critiques) go as I have only listened fully through the one time, but through the merit of how good 'Scars Across' I am putting this one out into the ether. I will say this: In comparison to 'Scarss Across", the way in which 'Ashes Coalesce' was produced, in particular the prominence of the vocals in the mix and the omission of weight behind the kick drum in favour of clarity is something that might be too lofty for its own good, with an album cover matching in grandiosity. OF course this is more a matter of personal preference but…Gut instinct, I prefer the more primitive aspects of the former. See, I can be critical too.

How about Drown though? Holy shit.

Ashes Coalesce (bandcamp) 

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Murderer - I Did It All For You (2018)

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This sucker is a couple of years old but I only just stumbled onto it the other day by complete accident and I'm floored by it. This is one of those records that sound ahead of its time, which is likely a hyperbolic statement, but this is why I write on this blog and not you, because I get to say whatever I want, and you get to roll your eyes or whatever it is you do – If that sentence had its own chapter, it would be titled "Attitude dude."

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A seedy New York three-piece fronted by Hank Wood of Hank Wood & The Hammerheads and the festering energy they are known for is obvious on 'I Did It All For You', an atmosphere conquered by fuzzy guitar tones and grooves that pack force like a kicking mule. It's super jangly and weird, and features four-different takes on the same track called 'Perfect' which I should hate, but I really couldn't and I really don't. This album succeeds at everything it's been doing and if you don't like it, well that's just like, your opinion, man. Keep cool.

I Did It All For You (bandcamp)