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Album Review: Abolitionist – “The Instant”

It took longer for me to get Abolitionist than I like to admit. I remember eyeing the Portland area as a potential home, years before I was even close to taking the plunge. In preparation, I listened to every Portland punk band I could find. A part of me wanted to be convinced, and of course, a part of me wanted new music. I found a lot of cool bands, but something about Abolitionist just didn’t stick to me. Back in those days, they had a pop punk tag on bandcamp and I can’t help but think of myself, back then, straining to hear how Abolitionist would’ve sat alongside Teenage Bottlerocket, Off With Their Heads, or Direct Hit! It wasn’t really that melodic, but it was aggressive, had cool art, and was supposed to sell me on a city I kinda-sorta was seeing myself in down the road. But back then—I just didn’t get it.

Well, flash forward. I live in Vancouver, WA, a bridge away from Abolitionists’ hometown and I’m armed with a lot more knowledge and taste. Since then, I’ve recognized that pop punk tag as an influence, not an iron-barred cage, and I’ve expanded my listening experiences enough to place them in a different, and altogether more punk tradition. It took their last EP to open my eyes, and when I finally saw them for what they are (rather than what the bandcamp tag sold them as), I saw Abolitionist as the torchbearers of the Revolution Summer—that glorious and exciting period of punk rock when DC hardcore started to stretch its legs and experiment with both confessional lyrics, slowed down jams, and melody—outrightly rejecting macho posturing and violence. When I hear Abolitionist now, I hear Dag Nasty, One Last Wish, Rites of Spring, and Fuel, but their innovation is in taking the rawness and musical melody of the aforementioned while laser-focusing their lyrics through a political and narrative lens.

The Instant follows in this vein, and of course, it’s a concept album tightly woven around it’s theme—one day, the people of the world wake up, and they suddenly give a shit. The concept itself is simultaneously cynical, hopeful, and absurd, but Abolitionist explore it thoroughly, with twists and turns galore. Better still though, even as committed as it is to its storytelling, the album never becomes bloated. The songs are short and declarative and the whole album clocks in at a breezy twenty-three minutes.

The reason the Revolution Summer comparison rings so loud for me is in the fundamentals of Abolitionists’ approach to music. “A Little Animal Liberation Never Hurt Anybody” is a good example of their sonic palette. A soaring, hopeful guitar melody leads into a power chord progression marked with lyrics like, “Burned down the factories, freed the slaves. Changed our diet, changed our ways.” Abolitionist sounds like a band using the hardcore framework, but adapting it to their taste. Their vocals are barked, sometimes with a sense of muted melody, but look no further than the bands that formed the basis for post-hardcore to see another group stretching under the confines of punk’s most restrictive style. Another comparison, especially in regards to “A Little Animal Liberation…” is Paint It Black, whose song “Invisible” similarly uses a big major guitar melody to create a sense of triumph in a dark world, a merging of music and lyrics never explored in straight hardcore beyond the default of aggression.

But, as this is a narrative album, there are highs and lows. “Backlash” is a gang-vocaled stomper, and probably the closest to a straightforward hardcore punk song on the album, as well as the shortest song on the album. The final track, “The Lonesome Death,” feels complacent in comparison—a jaunty, but broken record of the album’s final downbeat note, mimicking the lyrical bent with subtle precision. “We live in a veritable utopia!” is The Instant’s last line and it is both a claim, a question, and a critique.  

The Instant is an incredibly concise album. In fact, I would consider it a unique counterpoint to longer concept albums like David Comes to Life and The Monitor, which is not to say that those albums are any worse, but that they adapted punk rock to the world of the rock opera, where Abolitionist has adapted the rock opera to punk rock—cutting down it’s run time, zeroing in on it’s focus, and fitting it to the meter of loud and fast. The DC influence on the album allows the band to play with melody without succumbing to it entirely—and in confluence with its run-time makes for an experience that is as urgent and engaging as its message.

 

4/5



Album Review: Iron Chic – “You Can’t Stay Here”

One of the things I look forward to the most about Christmas and the New Year is reading the year end lists that get posted on various music sites. I always discover a release or two that I’ve missed which helps brighten what can sometimes be a dreary start to the year. You Can’t Stay Here by Iron Chic was one of these, I checked it out in early 2018 a few months after it’s release in the previous October and it’s been in heavy rotation ever since.

These guys have been around a few years now, this is their third release and first on SideOneDummy. They play a compelling brand of melodic punk rock which ranges from gruff beardcore to a lighter, poppier sound and touches on some emo-esque introspect as well. They’re a five piece who aren’t afraid to crank up the distortion and also throw in some samples, a bit of synth (if my ears don’t deceive me) and a female vocal pops up a few times to great effect. We get eleven songs here however the way each song segues into the next makes the album feel like one epic piece of music rather than eleven separate servings.

This record was written in the wake of the death of their former guitarist Rob McAllister and lyrically this album takes us on a journey through grief, nihilism, religion and finally what feels like acceptance. There are some pretty dark themes however they are delivered in such exceptional style that it helps the listener accept or process the messages within. The album kicks off with a couple of upbeat rockers, opening with 20 some seconds of distortion which gives way to a nice jangly riff before the band kick in with a hearty scream to boot. The lyrics are incredible throughout, it’s definitely an album to be enjoyed with headphones on and a lyric sheet in front of you. Track three, and title track, takes the foot off the pedal slightly with an intro that swells and builds over the course of a minute before a multi-layered wall of sound crashes down on you during one of the more emo points of the record. Let’s. Get. Dangerous. picks us up with a bright little riff and the song is a poppy antidote to the previous offering (“we both know life is temporary” simultaneously reassuring and demoralising us). Thunderbolts! comes next with some soaring back-up vocals during the chorus that bring to mind several Samiam songs – high praise indeed. Planes, Chest Pains and Automobiles rocks along nicely, painting a bleak but often realistic view of life (“Here on Earth, Where we serve our terms, And it hurts like hell, But we do it well)”. This leads into a meandering intro to next song Golgotha which was one that immediately grabbed my attention on my first run through the album. It’s a mid-tempo affair which takes us on an emotional rollercoaster and, for me, this song is all about the vocals and the lyrics. I’m pretty sure I listened to this song four or five times back to back just to learn the words and understand what the song was saying. It’s epic. This is followed by another couple of melodic rockers, Invisible Ink again bringing to mind Astray era Samiam. Ruinous Calamity starts out with a solo acoustic vibe before the full band kick in. I can imagine that when this is played live, there are a number of sweaty strangers in front of the stage, many with beards, arm in arm screaming the words towards the microphone. And I bet that feels pretty fucking great as well. To Shreds, You Say, the album closer, provides a great summation of the lyrical theme (“It’s been a long hard year, Started fine but it ends in tears, One down, We’re that much deader, This one ain’t shaping up much better”) and is an absolute belter to finish on. It rips along at a great pace and provides what feels like closure, although on close inspection the lyrics are a fairly even split between hopefulness and resignation. Regardless, it’s a fitting end to an exceptional record which these boy can be proud of.

4.5/5 Stars



Album Review: The Creeps – “Beneath the Pines”

Punk rock, for me, begins with introspection. Now before I get tarred and feathered—anarchy, fucking-the-system, cops, politics, veganism, gender identity, and more are all just as equally valid. Blame it on the records I grew up with, blame it on my soft, mushy, poetic heart—but there’s still nothing more thrilling to me than self discovery. Navel gazing is the diving board that sends you plummeting into ideas. More and more, I can’t help but think that Guerilla Poubelle was right, and punk rock is existentialism. On the journey to change, we look inward; and I can’t help but think, all this moshing and screaming was us thrashing towards our own authenticity.

But gone are the days where punk meant only one thing. In the last thirty years, the genre has become a vehicle for self-reflection and a number of albums have shown the merit of this approach. Jawbreaker’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy, Hot Water Music’s Fuel For the Hate Game, and later, Against Me!’s Reinventing Axl Rose. The thread continues to the modern day and the music has become punk canon, a source of influence and intertextuality—conscious and subconscious—a sonic and perspective bookmark to flip back to when a comparison is warranted.

The CreepsBeneath the Pines very much follows in that same headspace, even if they don’t ape the sounds. Thematics aside, first and foremost, this is an album of great songs. And second, The Creeps are a pop punk band. What this means to the listener, is that this is a record with an even rarer color palette. Beneath the Pines is personal, melancholy, and melodic; and paired with its ghostly, reverb-drenched production—it makes for an experience as haunting as it is human.

But before we get too far, let’s look at how the Creeps succeed as a pop punk band. For me, the primary task of any catchy punk is to be, well, catchy—and this is where the Creeps build their foundation. The melodies across this album never cease being gorgeous. They stick to you like glue, and accordingly, they’re treated like the star of the show. There are some nice guitar flourishes throughout the album, but for the most part, they’re adhesive. This isn’t to diminish the instrumentals on Beneath the Pines, but rather to shine a light on their conceived unobtrusiveness. “Shimmer” opens with one such riff, and “In My Mind” features a catchy lead as well, but for the most part, they’re kept lean and better for it. They manage to balance being present without being overbearing, often scaling back to chugs to let the vocals breathe. They are the detailing that give the songs depth, but still communicate a common law: when the chorus comes in—you’re supposed to sing along.

The best problem an album can have is having too many highlights to list. “Bottom of Things” has some hard-hitting and relatable lyricism (“Eye contact—I practice everything. Except sleeping, I don’t do that much these days.”) packaged into a big, infectious chorus. It also features a somber, emotional bridge that builds to rapturous howls. “Bodies” is another excellent track, more aggressive than “Bottom of Things,” suitably propelled with the galloping strum of distorted power chords. The opening lyrics are almost a thesis statement: “These human bodies, such beautiful acts of betrayal.” It’s interesting and inherently relatable, a eulogy for our mortal vessels, doomed to flat tires and oil leaks—destined for a ditch. The chorus, for me, captures the inevitable, and how we humans fight to sublimate death into something we can idolize, the reclamation of suffering through art:

It’s not the tightest ship,

In fact there are holes,

You said, “you’re bleeding from the lip,”

I said, “it’s spilling from my soul.”

Attaching meaning to hurt is nothing new, but it succeeds holistically, in cabal with the melody and insistent rhythm, transcending metaphor to be screamed as a rallying cry.

In parallel to the album’s themes of nostalgia and memory, I can’t help but think about the records that shaped my taste and therefore my life. Do you know I remember where I was the first time I heard Repeater? Same for Fuel for the Hate Game, Searching for a Former Clarity, and The Empire Strikes First. All of those records are tied to sights and sounds, old futon beds and my first record player; my first laptop and my senior year of high school. These gave me the start I needed to digging up my insides. To pull a quote from “Fall:”

I fear we’re all just fated to these capsules of time

Like memories of pure bliss beneath these sky-tall pines

And either that’s all that’s left, or even those leave our minds

And then we all fall down,

And then we all fall

The Creeps paint a picture of a race against time—the same one we’re all running. I’ve been known to call art made for everyone to be art made for no one. These are books, movies, and songs that aspire to a sort of bland universality, that couch their stories and melodies in the most brash representatives of the human experience. They cover heartbreak, love, and worry with those exact words, like Mad Libs of the human condition. The Creeps dig deeper though, and in exploring themselves they end up with examinations of greater humanity—the failings of our body, the social contract, depression, and addiction. They do this through specificity, by joining a great tradition of punk rockers working through some shit. It’s a healthy reminder that even though we don’t have the same “sky-tall pines,” we do all have them—and they’re worth holding onto.

Beneath the Pines is at once heady and nostalgic, introspective and musical. It communicates experience skillfully, with slice-of-life imagery and universal angst. It inspires empathy, while also inspiring awe. This is a pop punk record unlike any I’ve heard before, and if this is where the Creeps landed after nearly two decades of activity, I think it speaks well of their trajectory. This is personal, specific music born from a unique vision—re-envisioning punk rock into something new, useful, and defiantly esoteric.

5/5



Album Review: Lagwagon – “Hang”

Ok, so Hang is four years old at the time of writing this but considering there was a nine year gap between this and Lagwangon’s last full length offering I think I can cut myself some slack. I started listening to these guys around the release of Hoss in 1996 and was a pretty avid fan through to Lets Talk About Feelings which came out in 1998. Those two releases (and Double Plaidinum which came between them) leaned more heavily on the melodic side of the melodic hardcore genre, with nods to their heavier, more metal infused first two albums. The band then went quiet for five years while members pursued other musical endeavors, singer Joey Cape’s new band (Bad Astronaut) taking an even poppier direction. With 2003’s Blaze, the band’s metal sound from their debut and sophomore releases (Duh 1992 and Trashed 1994) was more prevalent and the record failed to make much of an impression on me. In the intervening 15 years (fuuuuuuuck) Lets Talk About Feelings has been my go to record from Lagwagon. From that opening chugging riff on After You My Friend to the bittersweet melancholy on penultimate stormer May 16 the album is pretty much perfect all the way through.

Fast forward to 2018 and in preparation for the upcoming Menzingers / Lagwagon / Lawrence Arms show in London in August (not to mention Bad Cop Bad Cop and The Lillingtons) I’m filling in the blanks in my Lagwagon education. Resolve (2005) was written in the aftermath of the suicide of their friend and former drummer Derrick Plouride and lyrically is, understandably, influenced by that tragic event. Musically the album is a mix of melodic and heavier songs and it’s actually a really great addition to their catalogue which is quickly integrating itself into my current playlist.

Which brings me to their most recent, albeit now four year old, offering – Hang. It opens with Burden of Proof, a one-minute Joey Cape acoustic number which sees the first reference to the album’s title (“I see you hanging by your noose. Delivered, divine excuse”) of which there are several more throughout the album. As this subdued number fades out, second track Reign kicks in at breakneck speed, Cape’s vocals switching from mellow and melancholic to aggressive and angry and Lagwagon are back in style. There’s a really cool call back to a lyric in the opener (“It’s a sonnet. There’s no way to put a ribbon on it”) and the aforementioned “hanging man” so if you weren’t following the song titles you could assume the two openers were actually just one song. It’s an absolute belter and I’d love to see them open a set with these two songs back to back. I think the crowd would verily loose their shit! Made of Broken Parts starts with a super metal riff and chugs along nicely with a breakdown in the middle before further nods to the album title (“We can’t hang so we must hang. Can’t hang on so we disconnect”). Following song Cog in the Machine continues the more metallic bent and lyrical theme (machines, parts etc) and keeps the album flowing nicely. Poison in the Well is less overtly metal influenced, although does have a meandering guitar solo in the middle before returning to it’s previous fast pace. Obsolete Absolute starts with the sounds of typewriter before a rumbling bass line leads us into several minutes of an enjoyable rocking instrumental which is then joined by a spoken word narration of things which are becoming obsolete. Around two and half minutes in, the drum tempo increases and a pick slide delineates a shift in the song. Cape’s urgent vocals combine with fast tempo guitar work and it quickly turns into one of the stand out tracks on the album. We hear more about our friend “swinging…on the tree” and the spoken word narration returns to great effect, it really is an exceptional six minutes of music. Western Settlements starts with a relatively pedestrian but enjoyable chugging riff and beat before the drums and bass strip away to leave the guitar to accompany Joey Cape’s sombre vocal which comes in (“A hell of a thing. Hanging a man. Taking everything he has. And all he’ll ever have”). Then the rest of the band kick in again and we’ve got another belter on our hands. Burning Out in Style, opens with a bright vocal over a pulsing guitar and we get one of the most melodic tracks on the release. It’s a fucking corker too, exposing the mundanity and emptiness that lies beneath the shiny façade that some people portray themselves with. One More Song starts with a piano intro underneath a gentle vocal from Joey and is a poignant tribute to the much loved and sadly missed Tony Sly. It references a song Joey heard Tony working on the week before he died which becomes a metaphor for wishing he was still with us. It’s another slice of pure melodic perfection and a fitting tribute to the great man. Following song, Drag, is a reworking of one of Cape’s acoustic numbers, discussing his addiction to nicotine. It’s a little heavier than the previous two tracks without returning to the more metal sound from earlier in the album. You Know Me continues in the same musical vein, a mid tempo rocker which discusses how disconnected we are from each other despite the devices we now have that in theory could bring us closer together. Album closer In Your Wake is a bit of a blend of all the musical styles and themes from the album. It rocks along nicely then builds to a climax, only to slow down to a super poppy repeated refrain (“Inside your head”) over acoustic guitar and a slower drum beat which then itself builds, the full band kick in and we’re told “Your next to hang” over some breakneck speed classic ‘Wagon.

So there we have it, nine years in the making and four more before I actually listened to the damn thing and it’s pretty fucking special, I wish I’d pulled my finger out earlier. It has an urgency and freshness whilst still unmistakably being a Lagwagon album which should please diehard fans and win over new ones. Roll on August!

4/5 Stars



Album Review: The Penske File – “Salvation”

The Penske File don’t play folk punk, so much that they play punk for, well, folks.

You know, the riff-raff, people like you and me who work shitty jobs, earn what they can, and live their life under-the-radar. Blue collar, working class, salt-of-the-earth. Their new album Salvation is a refreshing reminder of what the genre can do with earnest earthiness. This is punk rock, electric and loud, made from a working class perspective that drops the cosplay and goes for the gut. There’s no posturing here, Salvation is authentic folk punk, whatever you want that to mean.

“Kamikaze Kids” opens the album with a catchy guitar line and an even more arresting opening lyric, “It’s nice to be here, and it’s cool to meet you, shaking off the dirt, that’s just something we do.” It underlines the resilience and pride inherent in their perspective while giving the kids something to shout along to. Some might take that as a throwaway compliment, but I think the song’s singability, as well as its accessibility, is actually a virtue destined to be taken for granted. It’s loud and proud and meant for the people, a piece of art composed to glue a group together with words that’ll feel good slipping from their lips. For me, that’s what a lot of this kind of music misses. The Penske File get that the roots of rootsy music is community.

And the songwriting is strong enough to cement a community. Sticky melodies, dramatic drum builds, and  tasty fretwork pop up all across Salvation. The Penske File are a talented band with excellent command over every stage of songwriting, from composition to arrangement to performance. “Lakeshore” shows some country influence, but it comes from an old well, one not often drank from. The big countrified harmonies evoke, but also transcend, Appalachian townships; hidden away from the modern world, not to be lionized, but real all the same. When the Penske File indulge in some of these more obvious folk affectations (the harmonica on “American Basements” deserves mention as well), they risk pushing themselves into a corner—or worse, an inevitable downward spiral that ends in a“Wagon Wheel” cover. Fortunately, the Penske File keep their music rooted in catchy punk rock, and the stylistic additions don’t feel like Salvation playing dress-up, but rather as a gap being bridged between two genres of commoner art.

Fans of the Penske File no doubt already know the band as formidable songwriters in a genre with an eternal hunger for songcraft. Salvation shines a spotlight on the common ground that is music, what we share between urban and rural. For the Penske File, rock ‘n roll is the new folk, and they treat punk rock as a springboard for communion, and from the path of communion, the Penske File bring salvation. 

 

4.5/5

 



Album Review: Spanish Love Songs – “Schmaltz”

When it comes to building a world, details matter. Whether the world exists in a movie, a book, or even a song. Details are what make us feel the heat of an ember or the exuberance of youth. Even in punk, lyrics are enriched by the tics and specific imagery of a time and place. It gives weight to a slice-of-life, enough so that by the time the last note fades away, we feel like what was just sung to us happened, that it is cemented in reality, as part of our world as it is the world of the song.

LA’s Spanish Love Songs fill their sad sack anthems with the tiniest details, and by the last song, Schmaltz feels as lived-in as an old sneaker, and might just be 2018’s first great album.

As far as punk rock goes, this is the sort that captures me immediately. I pride myself on liking a lot of different punk, the stuff that barks and snarls, sneers or moans. Hardcore, crust, pop punk, a little emo, a little post, but my favorites these days are the result of introspective and eloquent songwriters that can match poetic lyrics to big singalongs. Stuff like the Menzingers, Red City Radio, and now— Spanish Love Songs, a band that’ll likely draw comparisons to the former, but manages in the end to carve out an identity of their own with Schmaltz.

Spanish Love Songs’ music is personal, so personal it hurts. It reminds me of how I felt the first time I heard Against Me! That feeling of did they really just say that? There’s strength in that sort of abandon, and Spanish Love Songs is benching above their weight. Opening song, “Nuevo” is a quiet track driven by piano chords courtesy Meredith Van Woert, rich in top-notch imagery, sung in an affectatious Greg Barnett-esque croon by Dylan Slocum. Slocum sings, “And I can’t help but laugh at these edge kids I used to mosh with at church hardcore shows, getting blasted on Pabst and burning holes into the wall with their Parliaments.” You immediately have a sense of time and place, but in the end, Slocum doesn’t shy away from prying open old wounds, “Well fuck, I’m miserable, which means it’s me that hasn’t changed.” Simple and direct, no bullshit. Schmaltz is filled with these sorts of lines, ones we’ve said to ourselves in our darkest moments, and Spanish Love Songs fits them to a melody and forces us to sing along. It’s the unique sort of confrontation that feeling-forward punk thrives on, recognition and acceptance of us at our worst.

The music itself is great, with memorable and energetic fretwork. “Sequels, Remakes, and Adaptations” begins with a guitar line that explodes out of thin air, while the song also introduces a melody that becomes a motif throughout the album, a smart move that makes a record tangibly cohesive, beyond something more ephemeral like thematics. It also introduces some speed, which is always much appreciated in a subgenre often critiqued for its mid-tempo emotional jams.

“The Boy Considers His Haircut” is my clear favorite from the album, a song that takes minutiae and reveals it to be symptoms of a greater angst. It has great screamlong melodies throughout the song, without ever dipping into a strict verse-chorus structure. The aversion to, but not total rejection of, traditional song structure reveals another parallel between Spanish Love Songs and The Menzingers—the effect is a strong one though, making each song feel natural, like it’s growing off of itself in new and organic directions.

There’s too many great songs on Schmaltz to talk about individually, but the number of highlights could very well be the same as its tracklisting, as each new listen offers something new to appreciate. That’s the depth the songwriting brings to the album; there’s a lot to unpack and Spanish Love Songs craft their music to make sure you want to unpack it, even when it hurts, even when it’s just a mirror to our discontent.

5/5



Album Review: The Royal They (garage punk) – “Foreign Being”

The Royal They may not be tearing up the airwaves nationwide but New York knows it has a homegrown treasure going on in the Brooklyn based 3-piece, and in the immortal words of New York hip-hop legend Cam’Ron “you can fool the rest of the world, long as New York know.” The group has been packing rooms within northern Brooklyn’s DIY garage rock scene and they are primed to blast off into the general lexicon of rock ‘n roll due to their flawless mix of garage, punk, and indie to create a sound that is equal parts aggressive and angelic.

Their January 2018 release Foreign Being is a magnificent listen from start to finish. It comes on extremely abrasive with their tune “C.N.T.” a track that goes from dark and heavy too fast and loud. The group’s frontwoman and guitar player Michelle Hutt puts on quite a vocal performance on the album’s first track going high and loud without ever shrieking. “Sludgefucker” comes on next which keeps going with the fast and loud guitars, but the shift in vocal performance makes this tune come off a lot more in the vein of indie rock than punk. It really highlights the power of their lead singers voice to determine the overall direction of the group’s sound.

Jeff Schaer-Moses Photography
The Royal They performing at Pet Rescue in Bushwick Brooklyn.

Not to take anything away from the other two fabulous musicians in the band Darrell Dumas and Rick Martinez on guitar and drums respectively because they both delivered spectacular performances on Foreign Being, but the voice on Hutt is truly transcendent.

The album’s third track “Flying Naked” is by far the longest, coming in at more than a minute longer than anything else on the record. The Royal They use all of that time to let the suspense and intrigue build before they tear it all down with one of their signature heavy breakdowns. “Pandemic” is another heavy and loud one but they never get so loud that Hutt’s voice isn’t the focus of the track. She really does have an incredible set of pipes to be able to wail over her exceptionally talented albeit heavy-handed band mates.

The record takes a distinctly indie turn following “Pandemic” as it goes into the significantly lighter tunes “Veritas,” “Needler,” and “Waiting Game.” They still bring the hard and heavy guitars and they start using feedback and fuzz almost like an instrument of its own. But the songs really allow the prettiness of Hutt’s voice to shine through in a way that the earlier tracks just did not.

“Say Less” is the album’s eighth song and for my money, it is the undeniable hit. Of every track on the record “Say Less” is the one that really allows all of the different influences that have affected The Royal They’s music to gel together to make for an outrageously raucous punk tune that still allows for Michelle’s gorgeous voice and the indie/pop punk aesthetic that keeps The Royal They from jumping headfirst into punk rock.

“Leech” comes on strong with a driving drum riff which breaks into a power cord laden anthem complete with call and response gang vocals. They follow that up with “Gullethead” and “Weekender” to round out what is a tremendous effort by a band on the rise in the Big Apple.

4.5/5 Stars



EP Review: Red City Radio – “SkyTigers”

We all have a crop of bands who have the power to meld their release cycles with our personal calendars. For me, in keeping with my predictable beardo persona, March 9th meant one and one thing only: new Red City Radio. The new EP is SkyTigers and it continues what their last album started— a re-defining of their identity, while scratching fans’ itch for more gruff punk singalongs.

Since The Dangers of Standing Still, Red City Radio have positioned themselves as formidable songwriters with intense instrumental chops. Although they’ve slowed down, embraced and diminished different elements of their sound and lost original co-writer Paul Pendley, Red City Radio has stayed remarkably consistent in the final product, largely thanks to the songwriting chops of Garrett Dale, who’s gruff and soulful voice give heart and body to intensely singable melodies. So much so, that post-Pendley, Red City Radio released their third full-length as a self-titled, codifying themselves as gifted songcrafters with a knack for grooves and guitar solos.

And if there’s anything that SkyTigers brings to the game, it’s definitely the latter. Solos have always been apart of Red City Radio’s core sound, but here they feel somewhat more prominent, longer, and in general, just more awesome. Maybe it’s the bright, almost neon artwork, but coupled with those noodly solos, the EP adopts an almost 80s rock personality, complete with loud chords and lots of strut. The americana, heartland rock center of the band remains, but the emphasis on guitar-centricity makes it all the more rollicking. If there was one thing I’d have to say about SkyTigers, it’s that this is Red City Radio rockin’ out.

The songs are as good as ever. “If You Want Blood (Be My Guest)” is a great jam with a gripping opening line (“Now I’ve got your attention…”). It starts quiet enough to focus in on the vocal melody before bringing in the guitars and vocal harmonies. The boys are back and they sound just as good they ever had. “I’ll Still Be Around,” a reference to their last releases final track, “I’ll Be Around,” begins with a countrified opening and features an incredible solo. Along the way though, there’s a bunch of lyrics to hang onto and enough crunchy chugs to keep the song feeling like punk rock for grown-ups.

“In the Shadows” might be my favorite off SkyTigers, a spaghetti western tinged stomper with a shredding solo and a killer chorus. It’s dark sounding, dramatic, and a whole lot of fun— somewhere between “Eye of the Tiger,” Ennio Morricone, and latter day Hot Water Music. Complete with a call and response chorus and coupled with an insistent beat, it’s easy to see how “In the Shadows” will slay live.

The performance level of SkyTigers is obvious from the get-go. These are songs meant to be played live, to be experienced in a sweaty club with open hearts and throats. In some ways, Red City Radio reminds me of PUP, who share a similar approach to songwriting. Throughout the album, you can’t help but think about the live show. These are fun songs tailor made for the setlist. That’s where SkyTigers really exceeds, in its ability to bring you into the fold within a couple of lines. Musical escapism, as pure as it comes— music to dance, sing, and rock to.

5/5



Album Review: Bundles – “Deaf Dogs”

Alright, I’m in a rare corner here. I get to review a band I’ve never heard of, like, ever— from across the country on the recommendation of a fellow Dying Scene writer (shoutout to my better, Jason Stone). The band is Bundles and the album is Deaf Dogs. Well, what does that mean to me? It means I have to put some words together.

Bundles is from Boston and as far as I can tell, Deaf Dogs is their debut album. And from a couple listens and onward, it’s a good one. What does it sound like? Muscular melodic punk from guys who probably dig Avail and the Gaslight Anthem, but probably more on the Avail side. Throat-shredding. Heartfelt. A little on the simple side when it comes to arrangements, driven mostly by bass heavy chugging and shoutalong choruses. I got a distinct street punk vibe here, there’s a certain shared spirit at work, but to be fair, they have about the same connection to a band like Arms Aloft too. Whether you see this as an extension of the working class anthems of street punk or an extension of the working class anthems of melodic punk, just know it’s music you could have a beer with.

The album opens with “Lorem Ipsum,” which stomps out of the stereo with a big verse hook that leads into an even bigger chorus hook. The vocals sound like they’ve been passed through a cheese grater, in the best possible way. In fact, this is where Bundles simple arrangements really benefit themselves. This is punk rock played like punk rock— it’s not reaching to push the boundaries of the genre or aiming for anything loftier than delivering good songs played with passion. With this creed in mind, rhythm, melody, and vocal performance step to the center stage.

Short is another key word for Bundles. Deaf Dogs is full of gloriously short songs. A good amount of the track list doesn’t pass the three minute mark, and a fair amount don’t push two. “TKC” uses its short run time for a raw and ragged singalong that almost reaches into hardcore territory, while, “The Dornishman’s Wife,” the longest song on the album at a whopping three minutes and twenty-eight seconds, slows the tempo but never loses the edge.

“Robots of the Uncanny Valley” is a stand out track that almost feels like an unhinged grunge tune before the whole scene shook off their punk influences to claim rock band status. It’s garage rock in its essence, the sound of people playing the sort of rock ‘n roll they idolize in their mind’s eyes. Inevitably, it comes out as loud and guitar-heavy, with plenty of opportunities for the crowd to singalong. “The State of Seattle” is the number two of the one-two punch, the next sequential track and another highlight of Deaf Dogs that flies by in under two minutes. The pendulum swings both ways though, and if I had to deliver a criticism of Deaf Dogs, it’d be one that a lot of albums like this attract— back to basics rock ‘n roll can only get you so far. Even with a good handful of great songs, a lot of them go by so quickly they’re hard to distinguish. For the most part though, the album survives the sameness sag, with songs like “Oh, Brazil,” and “The Glow” maintaining interest in the latter half.

Deaf Dogs is a strong album, the kind you won’t mind raising a beer and a fist to on any given night. It’s loud, personable, and defiantly minimalist. It’s back to basics punk rock by people who think that rock music should rock.

4/5



EP Review: Goodbye Blue Monday – “The Sickness, The Shame”

I love finding new music. To this day, as a show-going, vinyl-spinning, vest-wearing punk— nothing beats finding a young band with chops to spare. Goodbye Blue Monday is the latest to enter my rotation, based on the recommendation of other internet punks, and I think I have to jump on the bandwagon. If anything, I’m downplaying it. Their EP, The Sickness, The Shame is fantastic. Three perfect pop punk bangers from a Scottish four-piece, sang with a mouth that might as well an open wound. The worst I can say is I wish there was more.

I think the key appeal of The Sickness, The Shame, at least for me, is its confessional nature. We’ve seen it before in bands like Against Me! and Off With Their Heads, where vulnerable lyrics reach a level of intimacy they force you into a recoil. Goodbye Blue Monday is in the same game, with similarly personal lyrics focusing in on frontman Graham Lough’s bipolar disorder. The concept isn’t approached as much as it is attacked, it becomes a pinata that needs to be smashed, or an effigy that needs to burned– by the time the three songs finish, it becomes a picnic savaged by wild animals. But, that’s punk for you. There’s an aggression here, a plaintive, angry cry shouting down mental illness, and it’s a thrill to join.

The songs themselves are excellent, and there being only three, a dud would stand out a lot more. The EP opens with “Fungus,” a hearty pop punk number whose first lyrics state, “If you stare at a blank wall long enough/ You’ll start to see patterns where there are none. Little flecks of paint or smears or dry rot/ Little stains of what you’ve become.” It’s extremely catchy, like all the songs on The Sickness, The Shame, showing that at the core of this misery-punk outfit, there are some real songwriting chops as well.  “Take Your Pills” would probably be the single of the bunch, propelled by its opening guitar riff and declarative, shout-along title. “Choke ‘em all down, choke ‘em all down!” is the sort of lyric you can imagine on the lips of a couple hundred kids, crammed to capacity in a basement.

The EP ends with the title track. “The Sickness, The Shame” is a summation of the album’s concept, a grand rendering of life with bipolar disorder. It’s also just damn catchy, an ear worm that burrows into your brain with imagery from another life. One of the things I love most about this album, but also the title track in particular, is that these songs feel written. There are a lot of words here, and they explore their topics exceedingly well. The final product feels shaped by the words as their foundation, rather than just existing as a delivery system for a vocal melody.

The Sickness, The Shame is a triumph of songwriting as well as introspection. These are the types of bands that catch your ear and hold it tight, there’s a perspective here, something unique that can continue to grow and captivate. Goodbye Blue Monday is a band on the verge of joining the conversation, all they need now is more songs.

5/5



Album Review: Great Wight – ‘The Suburbs Have Ruined My Life’

When it comes to emo, I like all the stuff that runs with the pack, but not necessarily what runs in its center. In other words, I like everything that gets swept along with the genre’s associations– Hot Water Music, Sorority Noise, Modern Baseball– but I rarely spin American Football, Foxing, or Tiny Moving Parts. Great Wight is another of those bands, one that could tour with emo bands, or sad-sack pop punk bands and straddle labels enough to spark arguments for the rest of their career. The truth is, Great Wight write catchy, confessional punk jams with an afro/queer focus. Their album, The Suburbs Have Ruined My Life is a tribute to punk rock’s continued (but under-realized) foundation as a genre for outsiders, as well as a showcase to Great Wight’s expert, emotive songwriting.

What captured me immediately were how easily the words formed melodies, maintaining an intimate and conversational tone, while still being musical. There’s something so effortless about the composition across The Suburbs Have Ruined My Life that you can’t help but feel you’ve already belted them out at show by the time the proverbial needle lifts off the last track. In this sense, they remind me of Sorority Noise, who have always excelled at that sort of easy, natural sounding cadence. Using this songwriting mode, vocalist Erik Garlington, talks about depression, the scene, being black, being atheist, and being queer. This may sound too specific to relate to on a larger scale, but as a straight white male, I found it had an immediate honest quality that made me think of the unsettling openness of early Against Me! It’s great stuff, that appeals to a common experience, all of the minutiae hanging under an umbrella labeled ‘Being Different.’

The songs are great all around, from opener “Curtain’s Up! It’s Showtime,” a beacon for like minds that cements a lot of Great Wight’s musical elements early on, to ending track “The Come Up,” a sort of spunky cowboy chord send-off where Garlington sings, “I hope I never have to write these songs again.” Good stuff, from start to finish. Authentic and vulnerable; sometimes confrontational in songs like “Not Black Enough,” a standout track that begins with “hey man, we need to talk,” and goes on to talk about the black experience, and what it does and doesn’t entail.

One of my favorite songs on the album was “Starring Michael Fassbender.” For how much punk likes to talk about sexuality, the genre clams up like an eleven year old having the ‘changing body’ talk when it comes to sex. “Starring Michael Fassbender” is presented as a sultry, unabashed, slithering conversation with a lover. There are so many great lines on this track, that I could probably quote the whole song, but it’s easy to imagine it as an intimate moment where two people begin to reach out of their repression and acknowledge, “what makes your back sweat and your fingers wet,” “….the things that won’t make your parents proud.”

The Suburbs Have Ruined My Life is a stunning debut. When an original voice like this comes out of nowhere, with such a developed songwriting talent to boot, one has to take notice. Great Wight has the potential to be spoken of in the same breath as all the other great emo bands of the day, and it’s hard to imagine a day when they won’t have just as rabid fans, packed into a club and hell-bent on transcendence. These are words meant to be sung back by the crowd, melody and lyrics joined in the holiest communion– the completion of a conversation.

4.5/5



EP REVIEW: AUTONOMADS – ‘ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT

If you’ve never heard of Autonomads then let me give you a little info. They are from Machester UK and mix dub/ska/punk with scathing political lyrics to give you a unique style of anarcho punk. I was a big fan of their last release One Day All Of This Will Be Gone…Everything Now! so I was delighted to get a message from them asking me to review their upcoming 7″ All Quiet On The Western Front.

The EP consists of 4 tracks, one of which I wrote about last year when the video was released. That song is the first track and is titled “All Roads Lead To Hulme”. Hulme is an inner city area of Manchester and the song attacks the gentrification of the area. The song opens with that clean guitar that Autonomads use so well, and soon turns it up a notch when the chorus kicks in with the battle cry “Stuff your yuppie flats, we’re happy with the rats!”. The song is ridiculously catchy and I found myself playing it over and over! It is definitely the highlight of the EP.

Next up is “Babylon Rocks”, a song raising the issue of peoples misguided views on immigration and racism. The song continues on in the same style as before, crisp clean verses with a short catchy chorus with a worthwhile message. I am fan of dual vocals and they work so well in all of their songs.

“Run Like A Girl” is a great song taking a look at the way we wrongly attach characteristics to gender. A song against using terms like “man up” or referring to men as “girls” for showing emotion as if that is an insult. The message here is clear, gender has nothing to do with being tough or weak. We are all human beings that should be allowed to show emotion and feelings without society telling us it isn’t natural. Again the dual vocals work well in putting across each side of the problem and I felt the chorus took it up a notch on this

The final track “Dog” takes aim at the working class being exploited to line others pockets. It starts off a bit more melodic than the others both musically and in the vocals which makes for a nice ending to the record. Again the lyrics are brilliant and are exactly what you want from good anarcho punk.

Overall it is another solid release from a great band that have much deserved respect in the UK d.i.y scene. All Quiet On The Western Front is set to be released tomorrow on Ruin Nation Records. If you’re a fan of bands like Inner Terrestrials then do yourself a favour and get a copy here.

4/5

You can listen to the opening track “All Roads Lead To Hulme” below.



Album Review: The Playbook – “All I Am Is What You Left Behind”

The Playbook are a fantastic but largely unknown pop-punk act from Melbourne, Australia, and tomorrow they will be releasing their debut album All I Am Is What You Left Behind. The band previously released a three track self-titled EP back in 2015 as their first release with vocalist Laura D’Urbano, featuring a new spin on their sound and some great steps forward for the band. Going into this debut album I was hoping this sound would further be developed and the album would be full of quality tracks like the EP, and it definitely didn’t let me down.

All I Am Is What You Left Behind shows musically The Playbook are growing, with a great catchy sound, fun up-tempo tracks, and some great lines peppered throughout. The themes of the album follow the general pop-punk flow of relationships lost and feeling out of place, but doesn’t feel obnoxious in doing so. The whole band providing backing vocals at times feels very nostalgic of late 2000’s pop-punk, and the layering of vocals on tracks like “Falling Short” and “Something To Live For” add a great element to the band’s sound.

An early track on the album, “Sleep State,” lights up the first half of the album beautifully. The track has a bitter and angry spark to it with some great rhythms leading to a very nice acoustic section, building into the always welcome gang vocals. Right on from here we go into “Regardless…”, a gentle acoustic track that serves as an opener for “Reach.” An incredibly strong section of the album building very well to the anthemic line “Regardless, you’re gutless” which just begs to be yelled out at a live show.

“The Law of Motion” has a wistful ballad aura around it, featuring cello and violin sections to create a nice lead up to the ending section of the album. The track transitions straight into the up-tempo “Visions Once Golden,” with a similar theme of loss but showing the more pop-punk side of the band. The track features great tempo and sonically some of the best sounds the band has made. Whilst The Playbook sit comfortably in the pop-punk genre lyrically, musically they infuse elements of melodic hardcore in similar to how bands such as The Story So Far or fellow Australians Trophy Eyes do in a very sonically pleasing way.

“Something To Live For” is a faster and harder track than most of the rest of the album, moving into that melodic hardcore leaning sound the band’s previous EP touched on. The track features a great dynamic between Laura D’Urbano’s ranged voice and some background yells. A very quick but effective track to lead into another slow builder in “Resolutions Like Fireworks.” The track name is amazing, and the song follows that quite well. The common theme of loss of love seems different on this track, much more sorrowful and self reflective, a permanent loss focused in on as opposed to a breakup. A moving song as the penultimate track on The Playbook’s debut album.

There’s still a lot of growth left in The Playbook, after getting a new vocalist it took a little while for them to find the direction they wanted to go in, but this album is a great sign of them finding just that. They’ve got a very solid pop-punk mixing with melodic hardcore sound on the album, with some stand-out impressive moments, and from here their sound needs to keep developing until they fully find their own unique place. All I Am Is What You Left Behind is set to drop tomorrow, February 12th, but you can listen to the singles “Reach,” “Locked Away,” and most recently “Visions Once Golden” below.



Album Review: Brian Fallon – ‘Sleepwalkers’

It was obvious to anyone listening to The Gaslight Anthem in 2007 that Brian Fallon was destined to not only make a name for himself in the punk scene but larger rock-centric circles. Sure enough, it was the release of The ‘59 Sound just a year later that cemented him, and the rest of The Gaslight Anthem, as the poster boy(s) for the scene-wide trend of blending a little bit of Americana rock and soul into basement drenched punk rock. (Is it still a trend if bands are still doing it ten years later?). Three Gaslight albums, a couple of side projects, and one solo album later, Brian Fallon isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Armed with his signature gravelly voice and broken heart, he’s heading into 2018 with his sophomore solo LP, Sleepwalkers.

Brian Fallon is nothing if not consistent and Sleepwalkers shouldn’t be full of surprises for anyone who has followed his career. For all of the experimentation found on Sleepwalkers, the album is still very decidedly a Brian Fallon album. Whether it’s the motown flavor of “If Your Prayers Don’t Get to Heaven,” the Strummer-esque reggae rock of “Come Wander With Me,” or even the rock and roll saxophone featured on the title track- these aren’t things that Fallon has put to tape before- it’s done with the same style and confidence that he does with straightforward rock tributes and acoustic ballads, both of which he’s done plenty in the past, and both of which make appearances on Sleepwalkers.

Lyrics have always been a blessing and a curse for Fallon. No stranger to heartbreak, he knows how to put fears and worries into a three minute song, which is greatly appreciated by the hopeless romantics (or, just the hopeless). “Oh my Lily, if you only knew, I only want to be haunted by you” he sings on “Her Majesty’s Service” while on lead single “Forget Me Not” he laments not “[taking] the time to miss you.” Of course, many are just as quick to roll their eyes at having so little sleeve covering his heart (“And most of my sad life I figured I was gonna die alone” from “Etta James”), and they’re even quicker to scoff at the sheer number of borrowed lyrics (some examples: “I never knew [my father] so I bandaged the hurt, I pretended my daddy was a bankrobber” and “an English song by a band that you love, here comes the sun little darling”). Whether these Fallon-isms sink or swim depends on the listener, but it’s clear that Fallon knows his strengths.

Sleepwalkers never takes any great leaps forward, but much like Painkillers, it is a worthy addition to Fallon’s discography by adding some sonic variety. Mostly, though, it provides 12 new songs to sing while putting a positive lens on past loves and regrets. And that’s what people listen to a Brian Fallon record for in the first place.

4 / 5

RIYL: Dave Hause, Ship Thieves, Counting Crows



EP Review: Good Grief – “Sweet”

Good Grief, the pop-punks from the Ibaraki Prefecture in Japan, have released another fittingly sweet EP, titled Sweet, capturing the sound of the new wave of Japanese pop-punk they’re a part of. Here I’ll give a rundown of the three tracks on the EP, framing a release that I feel could be quite important in the modern Japanese pop-punk scene. (You can find a Japanese translation of the review down below as well).

The starting point of the EP is a more aggressive track titled “Blue Ink.” The track deals with the common theme of a relationship ending and the grim feelings of something missing from yourself once the good times have ended. The line “Cause I cannot forget, The way you used to paint me sky blue,” is followed towards the end of the song with the sombre delivery of “Now it’s just blue,” which leads into the most iconic moment of the song in the dramatic harmonized yell of “You can’t help me out!” is such a powerful ending to an opening track. If you haven’t already, check out the stellar video for the track here.

“Mayfly,” the second track of the EP, feels like a desperate call out into the night, with a relatable theme on past relationships but taking a more contemplative and yet lost angle than “Blue Ink.” There’s a lot of solid and catchy lines on this track, from “I’m not sure why I think it’s best, to get trapped into the bitter memories,” to the distant yelling of “I guess I’ll never talk this way again, I guess I’ll never call you mine again” that finishes off the track. An excellent mid point for the short EP.

An exciting acoustic track titled “Far” finishes off the EP, hearing Good Grief work acoustically was something I was looking forward to hearing. Seeing whether their normally melancholic yet fast and punky style could be taken down a few notches and work within a calm and twinkly acoustic setting was an interesting proposal, and they definitely did work. Rui, the vocalist from See You Smile, has a perfectly fitting feature on the track, his and Yastin’s vocals work well together over the acoustic guitars layered with interspersed piano.

The band use this EP to hone their sound, creating their most clear and well realized sound so far. Hopefully this EP leads to the band planning a full length release for this year, as I feel it could come out similar to how Mutt showed the full development of All Found Bright Lights‘ style as they found a place of their own to stand out.

Good Grief, along with See You Smile, Castaway, KICKASSRAY, All Found Bright Lights and many more, are bringing in this fusion of more modern pop-punk and punk-rock influences with the 2007-2010 era pop-punk sound in America. Sweet captures this sound excellently, however one point to make on this being a Japanese release is that it gives off a very Summer feel but was released in the midst of Winter. That being said, the tracks still have plenty of appeal in the cold months, and light a fire in the listener at times. Definitely worth your time, and a great place to start to dive into the modern world of Japanese pop-punk.