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Album Review: Dropkick Murphys – ’11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory”

There are always those bands that you can count on to release variations of the same album over and over again. No matter how interesting it might be to hear artists try new instrumentation, it’s still comforting to know that when Bad Religion puts out a new album it will still sound like Bad Religion; It could be cool to see what happens when artists attempt genres outside of their wheelhouse, but it’s also just as cool to put on a new NOFX album and already feel like you’ve known the songs for years.

If you think I’m implying that 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory, the latest album by Dropkick Murphys (and allegedly their first of two albums to be released in 2017), sounds like everything else the band has done, it’s because I am implying that. But if you also think like I’m implying that 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory somehow deviates from the Murphys’ usual trends, it’s because I am also implying that. And the weirdest thing is that they’re both correct statements.

First and foremost, this is most definitely a Dropkick Murphys album. There are shout-along choruses, songs about brotherhood, being kicked down, or standing together in the face of violence and fear, traditional covers, and just enough bagpipe. Anyone who has stuck with the band over the past decade and a half is sure to be on board with this. The band knows their strengths and have been playing to them since at least 2001. The album’s first single, “Blood,” alongside “Rebels with a Cause” and “Sandlot” form a strong first third of the album, with plenty of that DKM charm (here are the choruses of all three, respectively: “If you want blood, we’ll give you some straight from the heart til the job is done”, “We believed in you, we knew it from the start- hey kid! You’ve got heart!” and “We had it all when we were young”).

The true standout on 11 Short Stories, however, is the penultimate track “4-15-13.” Written as a tribute to the people of Boston, the song is a somber reflection of the titular day’s bombings committed during the city’s annual marathon. Rather than focusing on the actual bombings, the song turns inwardly at all the people who make up Boston and how, despite their differences, they’re all still Bostonians and they’re all still in this together no matter what life throws at them.

And yet, for all of its familiarities that make it a Dropkick Murphys album, 11 Short Stories still somehow feels a little different. The production isn’t quite as glossy as The Meanest of Times but it’s still not exactly The Gang’s All Here quality either. And the covers, while present, are in short supply, and not exactly what you might expect from the band. “The Lonesome Boatman,” which kicks off the album, is beefed up from its tin whistle-led original and not too surprising, but the album’s other cover, rather than being a traditional Irish jaunt like the band’s usual style, is “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel (for the uninitiated, the song is often associated with football clubs around the world, which might give a better context for how the band became familiar with the song, although bassist/vocalist Ken Casey also went on record to say that he was inspired to cover the song after finding solace in the lyrics as he was leaving a wake for a friend who died of an opiate overdose). The filler tracks here range in quality- “I Had a Hat” is kind of nonsensical but it’s still a fun, uptempo punk romp, but “First Class Loser” doesn’t accomplish much except for come off as a mean-spirited joke, which is bizarre in the face of the album’s other songs about standing together. The album’s final track, “Until the Next Time” is the oddest departure of the bunch, coming off as more of a Broadway sing-along than the actual Broadway tune.

Despite all of the over-analyzation, 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory is really just one thing: a Dropkick Murphys album. And in the long run, that’s all it really needs to be.

3.5 / 5



Album Review: Western Addiction – “Tremulous”

When Western Addiction plays, it’s like discovering punk rock for the first time. They’re hardcore. They’re SoCal. They’re loud and angry, snide and fun; they blend the spectrum of punk into a catchy, moshable behemoth. It’s been twelve years since since their last full-length though, and now we finally have our follow up. Tremulous is a testament to Western Addiction’s songwriting and musicianship as much as it is a personal album and a declarative statement of what punk rock can be.

While it serves as a suitable shorthand, calling Western Addiction a hardcore band is a bit of a misnomer. It’s not totally unfair, as they do draw the core of their sound from the genre, but there’s something more pure that Western Addiction is reaching for. They are a punk band. They’re a distillation of everything punk rock can be, with background vocals, chugging guitars, screamed dissent, and unrelenting speed. They’re real talent though is combining all of these elements and being more than just a pastiche. Through and through, Western Addiction has their own sound, their own idiosyncrasies that make their music their own. On Tremulous, they introduce more ideas to the mix, as well as maximizing the potential of others. The spaghetti-western licks have taken on a Burdette-borne neocrust tinge, the drums are as insistent as ever, and the vocals still deliver couplet after couplet of emphatic rebellion.

“Clatter and Hiss” opens the album, a classic rager, propelled by riffs and chugging chords. I don’t know how they do it, but Western Addiction imbue the age-old punk vocab with new life. When the guitars palm-mute their way through a progression, you feel like you’re on the verge of something violent, they’re a work of tension. The drums and bass are on the same page, with danceable beats filling even the quieter parts of the song with a nervous energy. Tension and release are a hallmark of their talent– they know when to hold back and they know when to explode.

Tremulous’ greatest strength is that it’s good all the way through. There’s no bad songs here, and the band understands how to write an album. Not all aggressive bands can do this. You have to have the hooks, or else chance it blurring into one angry chord progression. Songs like “Honeycreeper,” a slower, jammier track with a catchy chorus gives the album a bit of texture and keeps the album from sagging in the middle. The relative prominence of vocal melodies on Tremulous is one of the most noticeable instances of growth since Cognicide. They’re tasteful and subdued compared to other Fat Wreck acts though, and do well to add, not subtract from the band’s forward momentum.

The album ends with the most daring song Western Addiction has done to date. A slow song– sung–  all the way through. “Your Life is Precious” is a heady breather, a reminder why we’re all involved in this punk rock nonsense in the first place, anchored by a line that’ll touch most any of us: “it doesn’t sound good like music in a record store.” I think that’s where the album’s tell truly is. Music is weaponized art, punk rock is a degenerate’s paintbrush and canvas– an alphabet to spell  personal turmoil. Tremulous is a lot of things, but to me, it’s an album for and about the lovers of song; as politicized and angry as it can be; as gut-wrenchingly personal; as loud, brash, and downright fun— it’s a gift to those of us who use music as a bookmark for pages in our lives. For the weirdos and misfits who know how good music in a record store sounds.

5/5



Album Review: Dead Bars – “Dream Gig”

Well, the day has finally come– Dead Bars have released their debut album. The Seattle punks have released splits with the Tim Version and Sunshine State, recorded a perfect self-titled EP, played Fest, and are a piece of the incredibly rich and diverse No Idea Records legacy, but, until now, they have avoided putting a full-length to wax. Dream Gig is a culmination of talent and tendencies, met with vision and ambition and all the stuff that makes good rock ‘n roll into something to swear by.

Dream Gig isn’t so much a concept record as a thematic one. Whatever you want to call it, it is undoubtedly cohesive. The album opens with “Overture,” a lone piano playing a melody that alludes to the hook of the title track. From there, we get “Earplug Girl,” the first traditional song on the album. It’s a classic Dead Bars song, and probably one of my favorites of their catalog. It shows off a handful of their best qualities– a knack for singalong melodies, as well as John Maiello’s slice-of-life songwriting. “Earplug Girl” transcends through mundanity. It tells a small story with simple matter-of-facts that becomes bigger than either the event that inspired it or the music itself. It reminds me a lot of the dirty realism of Bukowski or Carver, whose stripped down prose and banal subject matter captured common folk and desperation better than anything flowery and elegant ever could.

“D Line to the Streamline” is another highlight– catchy, with a memorable guitar hook, a chorus to die for, and a bridge to scream. “And now I’m closing out my tab/ I have to walk home, I am sad, blah blah the sorrow. I have work tomorrow,” might be the defining lyrics for a generation of punks too old to mosh. In the wrong hands, the idea of aging rockers living out their rock ‘n roll dreams on a small scale could be uncomfortable and even a bit depressing. But, through “Face the Music” and “Tear Shaped Bruise” the music is given an identity of its own: savior. At the heart of Dead Bars’ self-aware bummers is the truth that rock ‘n roll is something worth sacrificing for, something pure and loud and powerful.

Dream Gig is Dead Bars at their most ambitious and defined. Guitar, bass, and drums have combined to fill out their melodic punk singalongs with an almost classic rock optimism– a fist-pumping specter that gives lines like, “I got insoles in my shoes,” a shade of honest-to-god victory. And it’s this defiant sense of accomplishment that makes Dream Gig tick. The title track is the band at it’s most ambitious, a seven-minute mission statement of everything Dead Bars. There’s a hunger within those shouted lines, a manifesto of purpose that throws a finger to the face of anyone who has forsaken art for getting a real job, for those who say dreams are meant to be waken from. From the refrain of “Dream big,” the instruments lead their way through melodies and feedback, before blasting into industrial sounding static, an innovation to their sound that brings to mind acts like Titus Andronicus or Fucked Up.

Dead Bars courses with nervous energy and insight, they’re both wistful and cutting and they do so while playing immediately likeable music. Dirtbag couplets, woah-oh’s, and guitar leads; the smell of pale lagers and the lingering guilt of a path not taken; chance encounters broken down and mined for meaning– coalesce into something vibrant, victorious, and uniquely defiant. Dead Bars play punk rock like it means something to them, like it should mean something. Dream Gig is an ode to the dreamers and the music that keeps their head in the clouds.

5/5



Album Review: Crusades – “This is a Sickness and Sickness Will End”

CrusadesPerhaps You Deliver This Judgment With Greater Fear Than I Receive It was a masterpiece, an album so specific and unique in sound– not to mention thematic direction– that it was destined to be something of a cult classic. Crusades is back again, with a lush and expansive sound, and an album that makes their previous masterpiece look like a warm-up. This is a Sickness and Sickness Will End is a triumph of music, lyrics, and arrangement, and proof that good things are worth the wait.

The album’s greatest feat is that it continues Crusades’ growth through change. In some respects, the most remarkable things about This is a Sickness… are in how it differs from its predecessors. Where Perhaps You Deliver... was grandiose (it was, after all, a concept album about anti-Christian martyr Giordano Bruno), it came at the price of being detached. Between songwriter and song there was the burden of history and the suffocating taskmaster that is theme. The new album is still a concept album, but its themes of grief and loss are more universal, and therefore not as strict. It doesn’t have the A-ha! novelty of a long-dead martyr to tout, but it does have emotional resonance. In that, it explores something intrinsic, without abandoning the lens that Crusades uses to explore the world. If we boiled down religion to its essence, wouldn’t it be a means for community building and dealing with grief? Crusades uses their platform to attack an important philosophical question: how does one cope with a godless world in the face of personal loss?

In typical Crusades’ style, this is attacked with enough obliqueness that it never succumbs to heavy-handedness. The songs are poetic and lyrical, and in irony to their ‘satanist pop punk’ slug line, hearken back to a time and place in the written word, where poets were widely read and the Bible was well, the Bible, when it comes to prose. It’s John Donne meets Cormac McCarthy, dressing it’s emotional center in elevated language like, “The course that lay before us: forked and weeping venom/ Looming crescent quite insistent both be explored.” This may sound pretentious to some, and it may also sound insistently obfuscating, but the outcome is something so distinct in its vision and intent, that it becomes singular. There is no one making melodic punk like Crusades.

The arrangements also back this thesis, morphing into an amalgam of dark music. Crust punk, post-punk, metal, hardcore, and of course, pop punk are all key components of Crusades’ sound. This is a Sickness... sounds huge, menacing, and melancholy, driven by ethereal melodies and sharp and intriguing structures. Airy arpeggios and strings replace the genres proverbial chug-a-chugging on tracks such as “1713 (The Scorching Fever).” Riffs are also an important anchor, especially on the aforementioned, which features a thick-sounding progression that wouldn’t be out of place on a Tragedy record.

This is a Sickness and Sickness Will End is a masterpiece of vision, and ultimately, I think one’s enjoyment of it will boil down to how much one enjoys art that is unabashedly conceived. There are band’s that are effortless– in the best possible ways– laying down melodies and lyrics that are immediate and accessible. Crusades is not that band. Instead, they aspire to something that is intangible and innately difficult, and they’re building these works of idiosyncrasy on the shoulders of our most accessible genre. It’s a meeting of worlds that is inspiring and strange, aggressive and proudly difficult. Crusades’ actually says it best, summing themselves up with a refrain from “1940 (Whirr and Chime).” With all the thematics, the arrangements, and language, it all comes down to our most human tell– our need to be heard– and Crusades is doing just that, telling “tales of woe and abstract sympathy,” forging them into something not to be forgotten.

4.5/5



Album Review: Playboy Manbaby – “Don’t Let It Be”

I have been listening to Playboy Manbaby’s Don’t Let it Be since lead singer Robbie Pfeffer sent it to me on June 10, 2016. I have had to quietly sit on what I truly believe to be Playboy Manbaby’s best work and one of the best records to ever come out of Phoenix, Arizona for nearly nine months. But now, finally, following their February 25th release I can tell the world that Don’t Let it Be is absolutely amazing.

Even though Playboy Manbaby is a Phoenix super-group featuring some of the most musically talented Phoenicians the Valley of the Sun has to offer, they have always been more of a live band than one for the studio. But Don’t Let it Be will change all that. Don’t get me wrong: Playboy Manbaby will always be one of the most electrifying live bands in the country, but with the release of their new LP, they have a record that can stand up to their live performances.

In the past, Pfeffer has said, he and his band didn’t usually worry about silly trifles when recording (like whether or not Pfeffer knew all the words to the songs, or if everyone was on key). They would just get into the studio together and do it live. What would come out of that was always fun and upbeat, but very often Pfeffer’s vocals were indecipherable.

With this new record, they tracked each song and Pfeffer’s vocals, which makes for a much more gratifying listening experience. Every word comes through loud and clear and you can even hear the inflection in Robbie’s voice — a whole new experience when listening to a Playboy Manbaby record.

The album’s opener and lead single “You Can be a Fascist Too” is an explosive, sarcasm-laden track that even includes a chorus of backup singers and was featured in Village Voice’s anti-Trump playlist.

The rest of the album is just as incendiary as its opening track, and it touches on subject matter that Playboy Manbaby never went anywhere near in their previous records; they have also gone farther than ever before musically with Don’t Let It Be.

“Cadillac Car” is the farthest hip-hop Playboy has ever gone, while “Oprichniki” sounds like it could as easily have been written by Devo as Playboy Manbaby. Across the record, enormous musical risks yield enormous rewards in quality and nuance.

The final tune “White Jesus” is by far Playboy Manbaby’s most political track to date. Robbie, guitarist TJ Friga, bass player Chris Hudson, trumpeter David Cosme, saxman Ricky Smash, and drummer Chad Dennis take aim at the religious right with a biting and satirical punk rock song.

The overall effect of the album is 100% punk, but there are so many influences mixed in that it almost becomes its own sub-genre, Space-Cadet Thunder Punk. This record is out there.

5/5 Stars



Album Review: Couple’s Fight – “There’s Someone Else”

Another Valentine’s Day gone by and another stellar release from the dysfunctional Phoenix-based duo Couple’s Fight, I certainly hope this is going to become a yearly tradition. While most American’s took the day to appreciate their significant other, x-romantic partners Alaynha Gabrielle and Travis James used the hallmark holiday to release six new blazing dis tracks aimed at each other.

For a basic idea of what this new E.P. Is like basically imagine dance punk duo Matt&kim with less production and if they hated every fiber of each others being. The new record, There’s Someone Else, like the first record, Breaking Up, is composed entirely of songs based on common couples squabbles, but this time the punchlines are punchier, the dance tracks are dancier, and Gabrielle’s big voice and creativity shine far brighter, which is most evident in her more stout jabs at Travis this time around.

For their new record the two piece takes on such romantic topics like the way a relationship changes for the negative in “The Way it used to be,” cheating in the tune “There’s Someone Else,” fighting in public in “Causing a Scene” and comparing one’s partner to their parents in “You’re Just Like with their tongue in cheek songwriting and upbeat danceable tracks.

One track that really stood out on the record was “Anything For Your (To Leave)” about the scary change that happens in a relationship when it goes from wanting to do anything for your partner to being willing to anything to get rid of them. The track is unlike the rest of the record because it features an acoustic guitar, and it almost sounds like it was more made for Travis James main project Travis James and the Acrimonious Assembly of Arsonists.

The new Couple’s Fight record even brings the Alaynha and Travis to couple’s therapy with the love expert Dr. Andy Warpigs filling in the vocals of the therapist. What exactly did Dr. Warpigs prescribe for the ailing relationship? A full split of course … and by the way, he’s boning both of them.

All in all “There’s Someone Else” is a fun listen that really highlights the clever word-play of both Alaynha and Travis, and is a definite valentine’s punk classic. Oh, it’s also available for nothing on the bands Bandcamp right now.

3.5/5 Stars



Album Reviewo: Muscle Beach – “Muscle Beach”

Denver’s Muscle Beach offer a catchy brand of furious post-hardcore with enough eclectic embellishments to stand out from the pack.

In a continually crowded marketplace where hardcore and post-hardcore bands seemingly disappear as soon as they’ve arrived, it takes something special to get yourself noticed. A good place to start is to stockpile a veritable arsenal of hard riffs and possess a front man who sounds like he regularly gargles diesel oil and bits of gravel. Similarly, you should sound authentic. Throw every ounce of soul into every scream but maintain that air of mischievousness to leave the listener bruised and beaten but elated and satisfied. Thankfully, Muscle Beach contain that and more. They produce muscular, frenzied, ear-splitting post-hardcore but with an unshakable swagger and with hooks you could hang an oil tanker off.

The album launches with gleeful slabs of distortion on “Tiger Lily” with front man Justin Sanderson’s spine-tingling howl ripping through the chaos. The guitars are sharp and emphatic; beaten with furious abandon as if the band’s very lives depended on it. “Re-animators” struts and rolls with a cutting, glam punk riff, recalling Blcklisters and The Blood Brothers. The song provides a veritable feast of riffs with each more ferocious than the last. The kinds of riff that sounds like they could decimate a rain forest. Impressively, the band possess an infinite fleet of riffs, ready to deploy, seemingly at will. The phenomenally titled “Shark 22:Electric Boogaloo” features a stalking, circling figure, like a shark hunting it’s prey, before launching into a blisteringly violent aural assault. “Pressure Kills” highlights the band’s understanding of nuance as they increase and decrease the speed of the riffs, subtly altering the mood from festering rage to all out fury. “Hot Trash” storms and spits until collapsing into a head spinning, swirling maelstrom. It’s akin to suddenly finding yourself in the eye of the storm before being swept up by more savage winds.

Although each song is impressively stacked with fierce riffs and fierce vocals, the remaining members of the band are just as important to their sound. For example, “Eagle Wizard” is built on a cavalcade of slamming, marching drums, while “Front Steps” and “Gnarlitute” allow bassist Derek Arriata to show off his clunking, chunky sound. He provides a bowel shakingly solid anchor for the band to explode around him. The later song also features one of the best riffs on the album; a speeding, fireball that barrels along with reckless abandon. The band are also able to create enough space in their sound to justify the “post-harcore” tag. While they do share the DNA of post-hardcore legends Refused, they don’t incorporate any genre-defying experiments or off-kilter jazz influences. However, they are happy to take meaningful side-steps. Many of the longer songs feature more doomy, almost metal breakdowns while guitarist Sanderson is happy to layer on the effects, adding chorus or reverb. Nevertheless, these are fleeting pauses amongst the melee.

Muscle Beach have crafted a post-hardcore album built to last. They pack each song with riff upon riff but utilize them effectively, unafraid to play with time signatures or atmospherics. In doing so the album has more to offer the deeper you go. It is as volatile and unhinged as you would hope but often comes across as playful rather than malicious. An thrilling assault to the senses that leaves vibrations in the air long after it has finished.

4/5 Stars



Album Review: Darko – “Bonsai Mammoth”

After spending the better part of the past decade cutting their teeth on a string of EPs and singles, Darko are entering the realm of full length albums. Bonsai Mammoth, the band’s debut LP, sees the band coming out with fists swinging and guitars blazing.

“Life Forms” kicks off the album, with a slow intro before launching into a high energy ripper, setting the tone of things to come. Like all great skate punk acts, Darko make use of dueling guitar leads to give their songs an urgent feeling, ripping through notes at lightning speeds. The band continues to keep up the pace for nearly the entire duration of Bonsai Mammoth, giving listeners only a 35 second break in the form of “The Chernobyl Effect,” which acts as an interlude between the album’s first and second halves.

Early promotional materials for Bonsai Mammoth state that the album breaks apart from the band’s previous conceptual narratives. While that may be true on a technical level (there’s certainly no fictional story to follow from track-to-track), there’s still an underlying current of despair and the search for hope, giving the album a sense of cohesiveness and unity. The aforementioned “Life Forms” declares the band’s autonomy and apathy right from the get-go: “I don’t wanna be a part of it and I don’t care for all of this shit.” This might not be the most original of defiant statements, but it’s surely what a lot of people are feeling all over the world given the current state of things.

2017 may have only just begun, but it’s already in dire need of an aggressive soundtrack. Darko and Bonsai Mammoth are there to start things off.

4 / 5

RIYL: Propagandhi, A Wilhelm Scream, Brutal Youth



7″ REVIEWS: NOFX – “HEPATITIS BATHTUB” and “OXY MORONIC”

I’m trying to keep emotion out of this. I saw on the Fat Wreck Chords website that NOFX was releasing a brand new 7″ called Hepatitis Bathtub featuring similar artwork to that of their book of the same name. The item description on the Fat Wreck Chords website gave no information other than the track listing, but since this was less than two months following the release of their best full-length studio album at least since 2006 I assumed that this new record consisted of First Ditch Effort rejects. Of course I’d recognized the title “Nothing But A Nightmare”, a Rudimentary Peni cover song that was performed on NOFX’s 1995 live album, but I’d thought the band must have re-recorded it, as they had laudably re-recorded “Hold It Back”, another 1980s track, a few years ago. Songs “Young Drunk and Stupid” and “Death of a Friend”, judged by their titles, seemed spot on with other First Ditch Effort song topics, as well as prominent themes in their collective autobiography.

But no, this record does not consist of new songs, or even of new recordings of old songs. Rather, these songs were recorded in 1987 “in a basement in Omaha”, before NOFX signed with Epitaph Records and long before El Hefe was a member of the band. To be fair, I did find a press release on the Fat Wreck Chords website from a few weeks prior to the release date that described the Hepatitis Bathtub EP as consisting of a “recently unearthed, crazy old NOFX recording to go along with the crazy old stories in the book.” So, while this information wasn’t, and still isn’t, in the item description on the Fat website, had I done a little more research I wouldn’t have felt as let down the first time I gave it a listen after receiving my pre-order in the mail.

For those yet to delve into the first chapter or two of NOFX’s career, be aware that Fat Mike and Company weren’t very good in the 1980s. Liberal Animation (1988), the band’s debut LP, may be hard to listen to but compared to the earlier stuff it’s pristine. The recording quality on Hepatitis is poor, but if we can look the other way for Operation Ivy, then we can forgive NOFX, too; it’s the songs that matter most. But severely lacking in NOFX’s early work are melodies. The band was stylistically more hardcore-punk back then, but on the occasion Fat Mike attempted a melody he too often paralleled the guitar riffs and bass lines, rather than having a distinct vocal melody with instrumental accompaniment. This is evident at times on each Hepatitis song, particularly “Too Mixed Up” and “Nothing But A Nightmare”, the latter of which is longer than I’d previously known it to be (I admit I’m not familiar with the original version); the band must not have thought the song was worth playing in full on I Heard They Suck Live (1995).

Now, I feel like I know kind of a lot about NOFX . Still, Maximum Rocknroll, a compilation of pre-Epitaph NOFX recordings, is one NOFX record I’ve had trouble spending much time with. In fact, I’m so unfamiliar with the compilation that upon seeing the track listing for Hepatitis Bathtub I didn’t recognize the titles “No Problems” and “Too Mixed Up” from Maximum Rocknroll. The versions are slightly different, but that would have gone unnoticed, too, had I not looked it up out of sheer curiosity. This “new” EP’s bright spot is “Young Drunk and Stupid”. It’s impossible to make out the lyrics, but the overall composition has by far the most depth, and would most benefit from a re-recording a la “Hold it Back”. All in all, this new release of old material is a disappointment.

Also released sporadically throughout the fall, and on various colored vinyl, was the Oxy Moronic 7” single, dubbed “Original Demos #3” by Fat Wreck Chords. With the album version on side A and a demo version of the same song on side B this record struck me as a cop-out money-grabbing gimmick, but I overpaid for it on eBay anyway.

And I’m glad I did! “Oxy Moronic” is one of the stronger songs on an album filled with strong songs, but to see where it came from is fascinating. The demo version bears the same title and the occasional lyric – although “Oxy Moron” is uttered repeatedly, not “Oxy Moronic” – but otherwise it sounds like a completely different song. While faster, the demo is simply not as clever melodically or lyrically as the final product, and, for what it’s worth, the production quality of a demo is never as good as the studio version, though this track still blows the Hepatitis Bathtub EP out of the water. If only someone could provide a detailed step-by-step description of how the First Ditch Effort version came to be. Maybe for their next book.

In summary: NOFX still good, Hepatitis Bathtub EP bad, Oxy Moronic 7” interesting.

 



Album Review: The Menzingers – ‘After the Party’

Is there ever a better time in a person’s life than their 20’s? Depending on what path your life takes, probably not. For many young people, particularly those who went to college straight out of high school, being a twenty-something is the first time they get to experience any real freedom. Sure, things aren’t exactly the greatest right now- everyone is in debt up to their necks, the job market doesn’t show any visible signs of getting better, and the rent, as always, is too damn high. But at the same time, these are problems that should work themselves out when you’re older. For now, it’s time to live it up and party.  

So, then, what do you do once you hit the big 3-0? As it turns out, exiting your twenties doesn’t automatically make you an adult and there’s always more growing up to do. Questioning your life’s turns or trying to make life meaningful have always been good fodder for artists, but for those of us who grew up in the late 90’s and early aughts, we not only have to find our place in the world, we have to find our place in a world that doesn’t have room for us.

This brings us to the main thesis of The Menzingers’ fifth studio album, After the Party: “Where are we gonna go now that our twenties are over?” The question burns through the album’s first track, the Jeff Rosenstock-esque ripper “Tellin’ Lies,” though the sentiment is repeated over and over again throughout the album, with verses dedicated to the worthlessness of [expensive] degrees received in the name of pleasing parents, and an entire song reflecting on being the only one left out well past last call. Album highlight “House on Fire” turns up the heat of that question with the opening line “Waiting for your life to start then you die” and its refrain “Does it make you nervous? Have you fulfilled your purpose? Yeah, does it make you nervous- the house is on fire” only pushes the urgency felt by people entering adulthood only to realize that there’s more to being an adult than turning 30.

After the Party is more than just worrying about the future, however, and The Menzingers are just as able to look back at their history and draw influence from it and vocalist/guitarist Greg Barnett continues to put his best foot forward when it comes to nostalgia-driven songs. First singles “Lookers” and “Bad Catholics” are two sides of the same coin- the former fondly recalls a flame that has since extinguished, while the latter has Barnett coming to the realization that sometimes feelings disappear and romanticizing a lost love is just that: romanticization. “Your Wild Years” is reminiscent of one of Barnett’s older tracks “Casey,” albeit with a greater emphasis on the person rather than the foolish deeds committed with them, showing his evolution as a writer. Meanwhile, the band’s other singer, Tom May, only takes the lead on four tracks, but his abstract approach to lyricism has never been more sharp (just take a look at his very first line on the album, “I held up a liquor store demanding top shelf metaphors”).

In a mini-interview with Alternative Press last December, May was asked if the new album would be more “Rented World or On the Impossible Past?” and May flat out responded “On the Impossible Past.” And in a sense, it’s true. Musically speaking, After the Party isn’t as explorative as its predecessor Rented World, with many of the tracks sticking to the band’s soulful brand of bouncing punk rock, with plenty of hooks that Mick Jones would have written if he had grown up in Scranton in 1997. There are still some other styles to be found: you can almost hear the syncopated upstroke influence of Bob and the Sagets in “Tellin’ Lies,” the full-song-length-interlude “Black Mass” is driven by a steadily thumping bass and softly strummed guitars, and “The Bars” features Irish waltzing, not unlike on Masharimdaba, the band’s overlooked covers single released on St. Patrick’s Day 2016. All-in-all, however, After the Party focuses on tightening up the sound that The Menzingers are best known for already.

For all their pondering and searching, The Menzingers never find an answer to their question. Maybe it’s because there never was just one single way to be 30 years old in the first place. Sure, there’s the train of thought that older generations keep pushing: get a job, get married, have kids, and die, but it’s foolish to ignore that there are new factors to take into account, primarily economic, that have made growing up more complicated these days. The closest thing that comes to a satisfying conclusion is that “only a fool would think that living could be easy,” because living is anything but easy.

4.5 / 5

RIYL: The Replacements, Jeff Rosenstock, The Gaslight Anthem



Album Review: MakeWar – “Developing a Theory of Integrity”

Developing a Theory of Integrity is proof that Red Scare is a punk rock tastemaker. They’re what Fat Wreck was to the scene in the 90s, standing alongside the greats of No Idea and Epitaph as labels with a specific vision of what punk rock should be. I mean, this is a release I only listened to because I saw it announced on Red Scare’s website; one year ago, I’d never heard of MakeWar— now, they’re one of my favorites of the year. See? Tastemakers.

That isn’t to shift all the credit of this release from the artist to the label, but it does bear to mention the “Red Scare Sound.” MakeWar fit in with the lineage just fine, playing heartfelt melodic punk with huge hooks and cherry songwriting. They also have an interesting story, being a band of South American immigrants. But, front and center of Developing a Theory of Integrity are the songs, and it’s the anthemic choruses, with all their wistful and resistant energy that give this release it’s legs.

MakeWar’s lyrical topics aren’t new. Being a twenty-something living an extended and booze-filled adolescence is a well-tread melodic punk trope. But, as with anything, it’s all in the approach. Songwriter Jose Prieto has a knack for imagery that makes his songs about more than just fuck-ups fucking up. And what makes it all work is that he captures the youthful enthusiasm of drinking and partying with friends, and lets tomorrow’s regret creep right along side the empty cans and high-fives. The opening lines of the first track, “Matador Pool Party,” set up the juxtaposition: “Summer is showing her feet, at my doorstep but not coming in. Creeping with sunny flares out my window, while pissing all over the streets.” Even within the scene-setting, Prieto opens us up to the summer and all it’s positive associations, while never letting it become too idyllic.

“Ode” might just be the anthem of the year for me, with perhaps one of the most-singalongable hooks in beard punk history. “I can’t fall asleep, so many demons inside of me, I hope they die, with this shot of whiskey,” is destined to be communally screamed and toasted at live shows for years to come. “Sallie” is another tune made for weekend nights with it’s rallying cry of “fuck nine to five!” With lines like these, Developing a Theory of Integrity coalesces into the ultimate cut-loose album. It’s unapologetically relatable, attacking its cliches with as much gusto as poetry.

It’s bands like MakeWar that keep me in the fold. Every once and awhile, a new songwriting talent emerges and reminds you why you stick around in the first place. It all comes down to recognition. It’s that epiphany in a song, when you’re bobbing your head and you hear that exact couplet that you needed to hear at that exact time. It’s when you recognize a feeling, given muscle and bone through art. Developing A Theory of Integrity is a collection of feelings, as genuine and loud as they come.

5/5



Album Review: Youth Funeral – “Heavenward”

From listening to the instrumental track Bloom – the opening track on Youth Funeral’s first full-length release – it appears evident that the band has a crucial understanding of the intricacies and subtleties of their instruments. The track showcases the groups command over their craft, with some exceptional notes shining through the instrumental. This is followed up by a track called Lonely Man, which presents a truer indicator of their style.

Read more about it here



Album Review: Chixdiggit – “2012”

Chixdiggit, Canada’s premier pop punk band (Sum forty-wha?), and composers of classic love songs such as “I Wanna Hump You” and “Where’s Your Mom?” are back with “2012”, the longest Fat Wreck song since NOFX’s “The Decline” (I think?), which they happily put to shame clocking in at 25 minutes. An autobiography of the band’s 2012 tour, Chixdiggit up the ante with this one, covering the little details all while playing their simple brand of punk rock they’ve been known for over the last twenty years.

Through this release, a variety of topics are covered, all under the banner of silly punk rock in the same vein as the Ramones. The song/record/whatever starts off in Amsterdam, and travels to Edmonton, San Francisco, and more, finally ending in Victoria. The thing that’s so loveable about Chixdiggit is their ability to make everything about these places funny. Constant praise of abstract hot spots like Trader Joe’s, Nimrod Land, and an unnamed coffee place by Whole Foods paint a fun story for each place they went.

The humor is fairly juvenile, but that’s what’s so fun about it. For instance, at one spot of the song, a recounting of a conversation concerning Orangevale – where there’s only “hookers and hockey players” – sprints into a chorus of “What Position Does She Play?” regarding somebody’s mother. To top it off, that part ends with “We went to Walmart to buy some Stage Uniforms,” and continues on to the next section. And no autobiographical Fat Wreck tale could survive without a story of meeting Masked Intruder (“I’d only heard them on my personal computer.”).

While they primarily stick with their brand of Ramones-core, they do mess around a little bit with classic rock, cow punk, and there’s even a point where the music sounds kind of spooky (reflecting the lyrics). All in all though, Chixdiggit is still that silly, catchy pop punk band from up North, and a 25 minute song/release connected by a common theme of their 2012 tour is a great way for them to change it up while still retaining what makes them them.

Granted, a 25 minute song drags on a bit. And that’s why I’m giving this release ⅘ stars. Chixdiggit, however, did a good job at separating themselves from their previous career and put out a pretty kick ass release. If you haven’t checked it out, do it. Also, nice Rush tribute photo, boys.

4/5 Stars



Album Review: Stonethrower – “Swells/Repels”

Stonethrower appear to have a fine alchemical balance between all of their elements. It is immediately apparent when listening to “Swells/Repels” – their first release – that no one instrument leads the music but that it is instead the result of the dynamic interplay between all of them – including the vocals. Vocals can be an extremely important and often overlooked instrument in a lot of music. Stonethrower show an impressive understanding of the flavours brought about by each of their instruments, and they put these together in an intoxicating way. I had my suspicions after first hearing their track Tracing Paper on the Gold Mold Spring Sampler 2016 that they were a band who incorporated and utilised the vocals heavily in their song-writing; this may seem like an obvious thing to do, but I believe that many bands leave their vocal work until the end, tacking them onto a finished piece of music. This suspicion was vindicated when I received Swells/Repels on CD the other day, as the CD itself was lovingly wrapped in an A4 piece of paper containing all the lyrics.

Stonethrower are a four-piece band based in Dundee, Scotland – a particularly cultural city from whence a great many respected artists have emerged. In my experience, a lot of people used to listen to “heavy” music, but their tastes moved on and they no longer enjoy it, apart from perhaps in that which they used to know. I have continued to enjoy such “heavy” music, but did allow it to pass me by for a number of years. Stonethrower are a band whom I feel have brought me up to speed, encompassing the better elements of all of the older stuff that I used to listen to, packaged with everything that I missed and brought together a remarkably mature and well-formulated release.

Stonethrower do not evade classification, it seems that if you try hard enough you can classify anything for better or worse, but they certainly exceed the expectations of whatever classification you could hope to work them in to. I found their EP very moreish, perhaps because it flows quite naturally to me, whilst still maintaining its ability to throw curveballs and defy expectation. I have listened to their dynamic, emotional and hard-hitting EP a number of times and it has not ceased to be a joy or to get my head-banging. They bring the best out of a number of sub-genres and use that recipe to put together something truly memorable. I expect to see a lot more out of Stonethrower and cannot wait to see them live.

4/5 Stars



Album Review: Blink 182 – “California”

“There must be fifty thousand people here,” I think to myself. I turn to my buddy and ask him how many people he thinks are here. He surveys the crowd and says, “I’d say fifty thousand.” No wonder so many kids want to grow up to be rock stars.

And then the band comes out. Fireworks explode, everybody cheers. The new guy plays the opening riff and sings the opening vocals to “Feeling This.” The letters “F-U-C-K” are aflame on the backdrop, and drummer Travis’s shirt reads “Thank God for Punk Rock.” Blink 182 is back.

Sort of. After a five-year wait and with one-third of its original lineup, Blink 182 released California this summer to solid reviews by objective music critics, and mixed reviews from emotional long-time fans having difficulty dealing with the departure of founding member Tom DeLonge.

Scott left – or was kicked out – in 1998, and Tom was officially ousted a year ago. It is fitting, then, that California’s onset features last-man-standing Mark Hoppus alone on bass and voice – “There’s a cynical feeling saying I should give up” – before the full band joins in and takes off at ludicrous speed, marking Blink 182’s fastest song since 2001. Should Mark have given up? Was it fair of  Tom, the primary reason the band had released only one album in thirteen years, to hold Mark and Travis hostage? Should Mark and Travis have dissolved the band?

“Cynical” clocks out at a little under two minutes, and it doesn’t take long for the new guy to make his presence known. Matt Skiba didn’t quit Alkaline Trio; he’s going to be in both, which will probably cause problems for at least one of the bands’ fan bases down the road, but for now it seems to be going well. Skiba belts out some solid “whoas” to back up Hoppus’ vocals before taking over lead for the final refrain.

“Bored to Death” follows, the album’s first single and the band’s first chart topper in twelve years. “Bored to Death” is an interesting song and it could be a punk song depending on the context of the band performing. It’s not a fast song, but the energy is certainly there. And besides, punk bands for decades have recorded one or two slightly atypical songs per album that often get turned into the lead radio single.

Which leads us to this age-old argument: is Blink 182 punk? Who cares! you protest. Does it matter!? Well, if I was writing for Rolling Stone, then, no, the question would be irrelevant. But Dying Scene is dedicated to punk rock and its subgenres. Given Travis’s t-shirt, the line “Thank God for punk rock bands” in California’s “Kings of the Weekend” – a solid pop punk song very much in the Takeoff vain in which Matt’s voice shines during the second verse – and the fact that “is Blink 182 punk?” was such a hot topic of my formative years, I’m going to memoir on you for a bit.

Already a fan of Dude Ranch, it was love at first sight the instant “What’s My Age Again” debuted on the local listener-supported radio station that had been playing Blink 182 since M+Ms. Roughly sixty of my closest friends bought Enema of the State the week it came out, and glowing reviews abounded, singling out new guy Travis’s drum work but never giving enough credit to new producer Jerry Finn’s genius production skills.

One girl didn’t like it, though. She’d been a Blink 182 fan since before I’d even heard of them. I had a crush on her and in my desperation to find something to talk to her about, I asked her what she thought of the new album. “I threw up a little when I heard the piano,” she said.

Then, one day, a self-proclaimed Backstreet Boys enthusiast freshman girl wore the same Blink 182 shirt as me. That was the last day I wore a Blink 182 shirt.

More damning than the few seconds of piano in “Adam’s Song” on what I now refer to as – dare I say it? – the Greatest Mainstream Punk Album Of All Time was the band’s incessant presence on MTV, back when the “M” still stood for “music.” MTV was not punk; that was one thing we could all agree on. I had a Bouncing Souls shirt with the MTV logo on the back crossed out, a la “no smoking”. NOFX stopped making music videos for nearly ten years specifically so MTV couldn’t play them. And here was Blink 182, all over MTV, as if they welcomed it.

Later, my friend, The Misfits super fan, guffawed that, despite references to the Warped Tour in Takeoff Your Pants and Jacket’s lead single, “they don’t even have the balls to call it `The Punk Show’.” Others would adamantly insist that, although they still liked Dude Ranch, “everything they’ve done since is crap.” That they weren’t truly punk became an increasingly common complaint among my social circles, leading me to hesitate before saying “yes” whenever asked if I still liked Blink 182.

Finally, as if I was searching for an excuse, I officially disowned the band and excommunicated them from my lengthy list of favorite bands upon hearing “Feeling This” – not a punk song – on the radio for the first time. I didn’t buy their new self-titled album; I wouldn’t even give it a chance for years to come.

At the turn of the century, Blink 182 was blamed, perhaps unfairly, for paving the way for a never-ending barrage of crappy copycats Good Charlotte, Sum 41, and New Found Glory –  I’ll never forget my disappointment at not being able to get into the Strung Out show because opener Simple Plan had hit it big on MTV since the tour started and all these little kids who wouldn’t even stick around for the main act had gotten in line ahead of me. Had California been released fifteen years ago, this blame may have been justified. Songs like “San Diego” and “Left Alone” resemble that sub-genre of pop punk more than Enema of the State did, as well as the influx of whoas, na na nas, and gang vocals.

Blink has never been an angry band. Sure, they’ve been bothered by breakups, and they’ve never been a fan of jocks who made fun of them at school, but with few exceptions – “Anthem Part 2”, for instance – they’ve steered clear of social issues that often dominate the lyrical content of “grittier” punk bands. Nobody has more fun on stage than Mark Hoppus; smiling and skipping around with his bass, I genuinely expected him to, at some point, say into the microphone “I love my life”. He’s a suburbanite, and the suburbs are reflected in many of these songs describing a worry-free party lifestyle in Southern California, a lot like a Bret Easton Ellis novel, without the murder and massive drug abuse, but with a little homoeroticism snuck in partway through (“I want to see some naked dudes; that’s why I built this pool.”)

The album in general is a tribute to their home state. The power ballad and title track “California” nearly closes out the album before an unnecessary joke song makes last call. “San Diego” harkens back to Mark’s hometown, recalling the days when he and Tom formed the band, while “Los Angeles” is an homage to Blink’s adopted home.

The present band members are all over forty now, but they’re still singing about girls (“She’s Out Of Her Mind”, another prototypical Takeoff throwback), breakups –  both with girlfriends (“I know I messed up and it might be over, but let me call you when I’m sober”) and former band members (“Late at night I call your name. Abandoned love songs smashed across the hardwood floor. I read the sadness on your face.) – and lost love (“Where did she go? And what did she hope to find there?”)

This is their third consecutive “fresh start” album (prior to writing and recording Self-Titled, Travis urged the band to think of the new album as the first Blink 182 album; Neighborhoods was the first album after Blink’s “indefinite hiatus” due to Tom’s inability to focus on a single project; the band had been brought back together after Travis nearly died in a plane crash.) Some may view California as a return-to-form album, even with the lineup change, and I do agree that California resembles Takeoff Your Pants and Jacket more than any previous album, particularly more than the radical shift in direction of Self-Titled (which I’d initially rejected but eventually grew to love) and the near-total failure of the last full-length, Neighborhoods. Songs like “She’s Out of Her Mind”, “Rabbit Hole”, and “Teenage Satellites” would’ve fit in with Takeoff’s sing-a-long-ability just fine, as would “The Only Thing That Matters”, the most straight-forward punk-sounding song here.

Other songs don’t resemble anything they’ve done before. “Los Angeles” features what sounds like a theremin (like The X-Files theme music) in the beginning, and later some drum machine-like drumming only Travis Barker can pull off, as well as vocal effects and echoes – I’m not sure how to classify this song, but it’s not punk, if that matters. New producer John Feldmann, the brains behind Goldfinger, shares writing credit on every song – another first for the band – which might explain the band’s new-found fondness for gang vocals prevalent throughout. Also mildly noteworthy, California represents an all-time low in the number of F-bombs for a Blink 182 album, and all in the same song, too.

Fans will forever be conflicted when it comes to Tom Delonge’s departure. While he was clearly instrumental in the formation of the band and the band’s first ten years of success, California is so much better than Neighborhoods that I’m tempted to view his absence as addition by subtraction. At sixteen tracks, including two joke songs totaling a combined 46 seconds, California is a tad long – like this review – and has perhaps one too many slow songs. When all is said and done, however, this is an excellent return from one of punk rock’s all-time most successful acts.

But is California actually punk? Is the band? I don’t know. Who cares.

4/5 Stars