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Album Review: Direct Hit!/ Pears – “Human Movement”

Splits are an underrated release. Too often they get lumped in as inessential marketing tools, rather than legitimate installments in two band’s sagas. They’re overshadowed by full-lengths, but make no mistake, a good split has the potential to go down as a classic. Think of the iconic Faith/Void release from Dischord, or all of those amazing BYO Records releases (especially the Leatherface/ Hot Water Music one)– there’s a rich history in regards to the punk rock split and it offers a unique experience. This is the place where bands can try new things and experiment, and maybe that’s just because of the nature of the split, but the truth is: sometimes it’s easiest to be weird when you think no one’s looking.

Human Movement is split between pop punk darlings Direct Hit! and nouveau-skate animals Pears. Their common language is hardcore and choruses– the former that encroaches on Direct Hit!’s sugary concept albums, and the latter that punctuates Zach Quinn’s machine-gun bursts of syllables. Together, they bring together both and play off each others strengths, making Human Movement one of those rare splits that can follow the conversation between Green Star and Brainless God.

Direct Hit! opens Human Movement with the hardcore banger “You Got What You Asked For.” While Direct Hit! has always been adept at the genre, usually throwing one or two screamers in per album, here they deliver on the intensity– with quick stabs of guitar, high tempo drums, and pissed-to-hell vocals. Immediately proceeding, in a moment of minor perfection, they switch gears into the opening of the next song, “Blood on Your Tongue,” with sugary sweet bell synth and pop punk melodies. It’s one of those tangible moments on the Direct Hit! side of Human Movement where you can see the fun the bands are having, and as the record spins, it becomes infectious– from the big melodies of “Open Your Mind,” the new classic “Shifting the Blame,” and their cover of Pears’ “You’re Boring.”

The latter deserves special attention, as one of the best parts of any split is hearing the bands cover each other songs. Direct Hit! attacks “You’re Boring” with so much gusto, you’d swear they were trying to claim it for their own. It stays pretty close to the original, with the biggest difference being some extra pop punk zeal on the chorus. To close out their side of the split, Direct Hit! strike straight hardcore again with “Nothing,” a fast shout-along track with an intense and dreamy bridge.

Pears open their half with “Hey There, Begonia.” It’s on the catchier side of their core sound, with the same fast moving riffs you’d expect and an interpolation of System of a Down’s “Chop Suey.” Again, Human Movement is about bands having fun, and they work it into the bones of their music.

“Mollusk’s Mouth” is a faster song with a lighting fast harmonized lyric section that caught my ear. It alludes to one of the best things about Pears– their creativity and ambition in punk rock is so often realized through the collective talent of their members. These guys can play, they can sing, and they can write songs like no other. Riffs fly, vocal rhythms change from hardcore spitting to soaring melodies, but it never leaves the realm of adult playtime. In “Misery Conquers the World” they incorporate “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor” with a chorus of children booing. Pears is the sound of goofing off.

Pears cover Direct Hit!’s “The World Is Ending” off Brainless God— well, kinda. What they do is actually a lot cooler. They meld in “Buried Alive,” the other hit from Brainless God as well as Masked Intruder’s “Heart-Shaped Guitar.” It’s surprising, weird, and hilarious, and shows Pears in all their glory– showing off and having a little fun. “Never Now” opens with some heavy-ass dissonance before transforming into the sort of thing the band is primarily known for: fast flying lyrics and a singalong chorus. It differentiates itself with the chugging breakdown, showing Pears once again swallowing up more genre influences like a fat and hungry punk rock anaconda.

Human Movement is the sort of the split you want to see released. How often do you get two high profile bands doing this sort of thing anymore? Not very often. Both Pears and Direct Hit! represent the finest of a certain kind of modern punk, established acts who continue to take risks and try and make their music as interesting as possible, all while playing in the chords and melody sandbox. Human Movement is a testament to catchy-punk devotees, a monument to all the wonderful things you can do with rhythm, melody, and words. But, it is also fun, plain and simple. Pears and Direct Hit! play well together, but when they compete, they both win.

4.5/5

 



Album Review: Darius Koski – “What Was Once Is By And Gone”

When Darius Koski released his debut solo album, Sisu, on Fat Wreck Chords a couple of years ago, I remember thinking that even though it was the longtime Swingin’ Utters and Filthy Thieving Bastards guitarist and principle songwriter’s first album under his own name, it nevertheless seemed like it was a quintessentially “Darius Koski” album, full of the sort of neo-folk/Americana rooted non-traditional punk rock left turns that made the Utters and the Bastards unique in their own regards. It was solid, and different from the Utters for sure, but not THAT different to leave people confused.

What Was Once Is By And Gone, released last Friday (November 3rd, also on Fat), pushes the genre-bending theme to newer and bolder and more diverse levels. Sure there are still some Americana-based elements that would have fit nicely on Sisu; album-opener “Black Sheep” and the slow burning “Old Bones,” for example. That fact that stands to reason given that like on his debut album, the bulk of What Was Once Is By And Gone was culled from two decades of songs and song ideas Koski had in the bankThere are a handful of tracks like “Yes I Believe” and “The Observer” that seem to pay direct homage to the uptempo chugging, reverb-heavy rockabilly freight train that Johnny Cash perfected a half-century ago.

But then, of course, there are the more conceptual pieces that make What Was Once Is By And Gone not only stand apart from Sisu, but truly shine in its own right. “Imitation Tala” has has an acoustic backbone that, combined with Koski’s subdued drone, give the track a “world music” feel that reminds me of the band Three Fish, itself a side project for Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament a couple decades ago. “Stay With Me” and it’s whistle-driven melody evokes a sort of melodramatic cowboy waltz. “Another Man” might be the most straight-forward, Tim Barry-esque acoustic songwriter track that cuts deeply in its emotionally honest tale of introspection and self-doubt.

What Was Once Is by And Gone also contains a few instrumental tracks, though to they are really more vignettes than truly songs. “Tangled Chords” is a brief  hodgepodge of reverb guitar,, spoken word voice-over, and what appears to be the sound of somebody hammering a nail. “A Little Buzz” is bright and hopeful. “A Version” sounds a bit like a sad, blue carnival with it’s weaving trumpet and synthesizer melodies. The repetitive, staccato piano undertones of “Soap Opera” give the track a haunting quality that evokes feelings of a movie score. In fact, all four of the vignettes do a good job of evoking different, movie score style feelings, and that’s not an accident, as Koski has expressed an interest in dipping his toes in that water in the future.

After a relatively busy post-comeback period a few years ago (three albums in four years), things have been quiet on the new music front from the Swingin’ Utters for a little while now. And while there aren’t traditional punk tunes present on What Was Once Is By And Gone, it serves as a welcome addition to the Koski catalog and hopefully offers him enough of a repertoire to make a go at the solo artist route alongside his normal Utters duties.

4/5 Stars

 

 

 



Album Review: Joy Opposites – “Find Hell”

When the legendary Japanese post-hardcore band FACT disbanded at the end of 2015, the members split into two amazing groups, on one end there’s SHADOWS continuing on a similar sound to FACT, and the other is the more rock oriented Joy Opposites. From their debut album SWIM in 2016, Joy Opposites have found comfort and a sound of their own, and now in their second album Find Hell the band has solidified that sound, whilst exploring out even further.

Find Hell‘s opening track “Blind Dogs” starts with the sound of a tuning radio, before the guitar comes crashing in, a heavy drum beat in the background, before washing into Adam Graham (vocals & guitar) singing softly. The track is an amazing place to start, and forms into a dark base for the rest of the album. Lines such as “… and we wait too long, until we notice that there’s something wrong, with everything and anything” set up an environment of uncertainty, a state where everything isn’t as it should be, which is what the album focuses in on.

There’s some fantastic imagery used in the lyrics throughout Find Hell, from “Your halo has lost it’s shine” in “Head Full of Tongues” to “Cut off my feet my friend, I won’t be running when the sleep comes calling” in “Sleep.” To perfectly compliment Adam’s (and occasionally backing from Imran) vocals flowing from soft words to yelling out, the instruments dip and crest in time, the band all able to accentuate their own individuality on the tracks. The tracks on Find Hell use some interesting sound design and combine different elements to sound complicated at times, but always flowing smoothly, all the pieces falling into place.

“Either/Or” is certainly a standout track which highlights the growth coming into Find Hell, being a much calmer and more melancholic song. “I still believe, I hear them say, what’s done is done, it doesn’t matter anyway,” The track comes as a calm in the center of the album, a contemplative midpoint that feels like the sort of thing you’d lay down and stare at the sky listening to. The track transitions into “Cinnamon,” which starts out at the same level but kicks things back up a bit as it goes on. Then there are tracks such as “Acid Kiss” and “Head Full of Tongues” that place themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum to “Either/Or,” up tempo tracks with an anger and determination behind them. “Acid Kiss” is another one of those standout tracks that I’m sure I’ll be singing along to in my head for weeks, from that opening riff to when the chorus crashes in, to the powerful wind down at the end. A beautiful balance can be found on the final track, the one to see us out, “Good Luck.” Gravity lets us go as the track fades out, capping off a phenomenal album.

Eiji Matsumoto’s creative drumming combined with Tomohiro Takayasu’s always impressive bass provide the perfect base to each track on the album, complimented with both Adam Graham and Imran Siddiqi on guitar pounding out the beats that range from spacey and atmospheric to fast, hard, and loud. Whilst SWIM found their footing and built a base for the Joy Opposites sound, Find Hell shows their very capable range as the band plays with some unique elements and effects. Find Hell shines out in the dark night it places the listener in, with tracks from “Sleep” to “Acid Kiss” soaring to the best the band has put out.

Find Hell is set to drop on November 8th via Hostess Entertainment, but you can listen to “Head Full of Tongues” and “Good Luck” now below.



Brand New: Science Fiction

Regrets, I’ve had a few. Like back in 2005 when I went to see Dashboard Confessional in Washington DC. I remember people going nuts about the tour and stating that the openers could not be missed. People that have seen a lot of shows usually try to catch the openers because you never know when you might stumble upon the next… Brand New. Well, obvi I wanted to see D/C. Don’t judge! I also really wanted to catch Rooney, for some reason. When we arrived at the venue, I had to get my gameface on, they weren’t allowing beer in the auditorium. You had to drink outside. As I sat there sipping my Heineken, sounds leaked out from under the door; sounds being made by Brand New. All the kids were milling about in their bright red “Brand Nizzle” T-shirts. I thought about buying one. Haven’t seen one like it since, couldn’t even find it today on a Google image search. I think that some of those sounds leaking from under the door made it into my ears, and into my brain. When I finally broke down and bought Deja Entendu, the first listen was like being reunited with an old friend. I had DE on 24/7 for a few months and then I had to ration it out a bit. I grabbed a copy of Your Favorite Weapon which helped to scratch the itch. Then came TDAGARIM, Daisy. I’ve seen them quite a few times since then and they always bring the house down. I wish I could go to that auditorium in 2005, see them play their new stuff off of Deja Entendu. Unfortunately, sometimes you just don’t get a second chance.

So where are we? 2017? In 2005, Donald Trump was in his third season of the Apprentice, “You’re Fired” reverberated through the country as the catchphrase of the day. Now Donald Trump is President of the United States. Back in 2005 it seemed we were on the upswing. Having made it through Y2K and 9/11, the future looked bright. Today, although unemployment is at an all-time low and the stock market is at an all-time high, a lot of people are angry, the hatred and anger flowing out into the streets. This country has evolved, some might say devolved, and we need voices that can provide sanity and consolation to the disaffected masses. Back in 2005, Jesse Lacey was touring on a record that had just begun to scratch the surface of the deeper thoughts in his head. What does he have to say in 2017? Can he and his mates in Brand New provide some solace in these maddening times?

I guess I’m not the only one looking for comfort right now as Science Fiction debuted at number one on the Billboard Chart, Brand New’s first number one record; proving the masses have not completely gone mad. I’ve had the album on heavy rotation for the last month. My quick thoughts are that it’s eminently listenable. The 60 or so minutes just seem to fly by. I remember an interview in which Lacey said that this record will go in a direction Brand New could have gone in rather than the one that led them to Daisy. Science Fiction certainly eschews the trademark screams and call-and-response choruses for more introspective and mature deliveries. Mike Sapone, long time Brand New collaborator, does an exceptional job manning the boards. Brand New just sounds fuller on this record; every track on the board has something going on. Science Fiction rewards the repeat listener with new subtle nuances. I really get the feeling that Brand New and Sapone spent time crafting this record, they use discordant noises, overdubbed soundbites (a la Lacey’s BAE The Smiths), Keys, and even background singers. It’s almost as if BN had gone back to the 70s and created a record like Kansas or Pink Floyd.

The album opens with a bizarre recording of a woman in psychotherapy. She’s discussing a dream where she’s at a convention feeling out of place. She concludes, “While I don’t mind having all this going on inside of me, it’s sort of–I think I’m going to be relieved when it’s over, when I can sort of settle back down.” Brand New spends the rest of the album echoing these sentiments in one form or another. Lit Me Up almost sounds like it could have been on TDAGARIM. It reminds me of Sowing Season a bit. When Lacey drops the line “You lit me up like a witch in a puritan town,” he demonstrates that he hasn’t lost his penchant for turning a clever phrase. Track two, Can’t get it out, opens with a strummed acoustic guitar, another recurring theme on Science Fiction. In fact, I think there is an acoustic guitar somewhere on every track. This song will definitely please the Brand New purists and represents the most traditional Brand New-sounding song on the record. Waste comes next, and I’m getting the Kansas vibes here as Lacey drones over acoustic and feedback, “Every night you were tripping out. In the morning you were coming down. If it’s breaking your heart, if nothing is fun. Don’t lose hope, my son. This is the last one.” Is he talking about life on the road as a musician? Is he foreshadowing the end of Brand New? I’m catching a lot of Smiths on Could Never be Heaven, it reminds me of Back to the Old House, although CNBH is a beautiful tune in its own right. Same Logic/Teeth will also please the purists, and we even get some screams here too!! But there is something untraditional about the Sergeant Peppers-esque goofy line “At the bottom of the ocean fish won’t judge you by your faults.” Beautiful and powerful encapsulate my thoughts of Science Fiction and the next song 137. “Let’s all go play Nagasaki, we can all get vaporized.” Lacey sounds defeated, as if he is resigned to the fact that the system can’t be changed and he’s embraced his fate of turning to ash. This song resonates with me in our current political climate where the system seems to have failed us and the only thing we can hope for is a quick and painless end. It could also be construed as an odd allegory on the end of Brand New.

Did I mention the 70s vibe? Out of Mana brings some serious funk feels by using a wah pedal and some kind of synthesized chorus inspired by Boston. In the Water sticks with the 70s mojo, this could be America or the Eagles. Stripped down acoustic, slide acoustic, electric piano, harmonica, it’s a trip! Desert throws some blues in there with a riff that would make Keith Richards jealous, they also stole the Stones backup singers!!! “Don’t come running to me, when they’re coming for you.” Remember Neil Young singing “Tin Soldiers and Nixon’s coming…” No Control brings the nostalgia trip to an abrupt halt. The booming reverbed-out bass hearkening back to the traditional Brand New. 451 does a great job melding the whole blues-come-Brand New sound into one song. The record closes with Batter Up, fans might think Tautou, this tune does conjure up thoughts of the sounds and themes of Deja Entendu. If this is how Brand New closes out it’s career, it’s fitting, “It’s never going to stop. Batter up. Give me your best shot. Batter up.”

Is this the end of Brand New? I think the cryptic messages coming from Lacey and Crew suggested 2018 as their last year. The songs on Science Fiction certainly have a somber tone and there are many allusions to the end, be it “this is the last one” or “Let’s all go play Nagasaki.” If they do call it quits after SN, they will certainly be going out on a high note. For all fans of Brand New, I assume you already have this record on heavy rotation. It is most definitely in my ten best of 2017. With sabers rattling around the world and a demagogue with his finger on the button, might as well float off into oblivion to the sweet sounds of Brand New’s Science Fiction.

5/5 Stars



Album Review: The Riptides – “Canadian Graffiti”

The Riptides, Canada’s answer to The Queer’s. The Boys from the nations capital are back with a little taste of surfer pop-punk Canada style. I’ll admit I have a soft spot for The Riptides. I grew up in a small town outside of Ottawa and we didn’t have bands tour our town, but fortunately for us we had The Riptides. Coming to play for 20 or 30 kids at the local youth center probably didn’t seem like much at the time but 20 years later there’s a whole generation of small town punks who saw them as their introduction to a live punk rock show.

Without a doubt Canadian Graffiti is a testament to the awesomeness that is old school surfer pop-punk. Songs like “Goodbye Hawaii” and “Waterloo” are throwbacks to bands like The Queers and the Ramones. Simple riffs mixed with witty, sarcastic lyrics are what made this Dying Scenester fall in love with punk to begin with. It’s not all surfer punk though, if you dig a more heavy, angry sound. Tracks like “Whimpy Goes to Washington” and “Homing Missle” fill the void. Slightly more distorted guitars with a grungier lyric delivery, it’s a good contrast to the bouncy surfer jams.

The Riptides even get Bif Naked to sing a tune on the new album. “Someone Just Like You” was a particularly good track, the contrast between Andy’s throaty singing and Bif Naked’s lovely growl is a perfect mix. As with every Riptides album there’s a ton of comedy. I particularly enjoyed “Get Out Of My Dreams, Get Into My Tardis” as well as the throwback “Beam Me Up”. Anyone whose followed the Riptides from the start will remember “The Creature that Ate My Brain”, the song “Beam Me Up” brings you back to those early days of The Riptides, fun, punk music.

If nothing else The Riptides are fun music, it comes through in their lyrics, it’s no doubt helped this band carve out a 20 year career. They have fun, they don’t take themselves too seriously, it’s what makes Canadian punk music great. Without a doubt my favorite Riptides album to date. Top to bottom this album cuts the mustard, a good mix of heavy, surf, pop-punk, comedy and honesty are what make this album great. All in all I give this album 4.5 stars it’s without a doubt the best Riptides album to date, and is a world away from the California Reamin’ years.

Canadian Graffiti was released via Something To Do Records and you can scoot on over here to get yours.

 



Album Review: Human Kitten – “Velvet Waltz”

Human Kitten, the project of Ocean City, Maryland based folk punk artist Elijah Llinas, last released a 16 track album titled I’m Afraid of Everything on October 31, 2016 and hinted that it may be the last release under the Human Kitten moniker. But there was certainly more to be said, a detailing of the relatable grey state of youth shadowed by mental illness in the form of Velvet Waltz.

Originally this release was planned to be a duo of companion EPs, playing off each other and showing two sides of things. This core idea is still present in the mirroring of the album, such as “Stuck Neverlasting” to “Luck Everlasting.” The latter presents a similar state of mind, but swings to a more positive outlook and the feeling of change within reach. Two other companion tracks “Bedroom at Midnight” and “Living Room at Noon” mirror each other in structure. “Bedroom” starts out as a slow and melancholic look at life and builds into an angry determination, whilst “Living Room” starts as upbeat but still vitriolic and moves down into that depressively real side.

The strong vocals followed by a shaky voice barely holding it together perfectly encapsulate the emotions behind the album. The wails of ‘Nothing at all‘ on “Sensory Deprivation” and ‘…a person who you truly believe has earned love‘ on “Living Room at Noon” show a growth in Elijah’s vocals, and the togetherness of the release show his growth as a songwriter. The album has an overall theme of youth and depression, stagnation and realization, growth and loss, and feels like a natural progression from I’m Afraid of Everything with a more cohesive structure.

Velvet Waltz is a look into a relatable depression in the modern day, everyday life, and an occasional lighthearted take on metaphor within a darker construction. Elijah covers everything from social expectations to introversion and video games, with a lot of incredibly well fitting lines such as ‘24 years old I’m still afraid of the telephone.’ The album has some Ghost Mice vibes in the power and the instrumentals, albeit with less tempo, but on a personal level rather than the societal level Ghost Mice discuss frequently.

Overall a more melancholic mood surrounds the album than other Human Kitten releases, with moments of biting anger and pits of crushing dejection. An emotive folk-punk experience that’s just as easy to relate to as it is to sing along, a story of mental illness, introversion, and the desire to grow beyond that and find a better place to stand.

Velvet Waltz is set to be released on October 31st, but you can listen to the first track “Stuck Neverlasting” below to get ready, and pre-order the album digitally on the Human Kitten Bandcamp page.



Album Review: The Lillingtons – “Stella Sapiente”


11 years is a long time in the music industry. For many bands, it is an entire lifetime, but for The Lillingtons it was just an opportunity to gather strength. For years, The Lillingtons flew just beneath the general radar with a rabid cult-following…until now. Stella Sapiente sees the band gather their acolytes in a campaign for hearts, minds, souls and the domination of the earth.

The dark and otherworldly echoes of “Golden Dawn/Knights Templar” open the album, with lush guitars reverberating into the shadows: equal parts dark ritual and signals from another world. Vocalist and guitarist Kody Templeman paints an aural picture of mystery, that bleeds seamlessly into “Insect Nightmares’. Buzzsaw crunch gives way to a dueling guitar riff Ronnie James Dio would solemnly flash an approving pair of horns at.

The retro vibe continues with “Night Visions”. Deep chorus effects evoke a dark-wave feel, while the gothic horror of the lyric “recurring nightmares cloud my mind, eradication of mankind” weave a Lovecraftian atmosphere of intrigue and foreboding. The band then powers into “K6” and “Zodiac”, more up-tempo, driving tracks. “Pursuit of Pleasure” has one of the most fun choruses I have heard in a while: simple and inescapable like a black hole.

“London Fog” opens with a riff and tone that evoke The Misfits “London Dungeon” with reverence, without feeling like a lift. “Cult of Dagon” is a dis-harmonic, synth powered acid trip followed by “Villagers” and “The Walker”: tracks that maintain the macabre atmosphere while revving the intensity and beats per minute back up. “They Live” shows the band at its absolute best: galloping drums leading scorching guitars in a harmonic race into the unknown. Dual guitars rip into leads that would bring Thin Lizzy to tears. The album closes with the same speed and strength with punk rock/80’s metal hybrid “Drawing Down the Star”, then fades out enigmatically.

Just from the opening riffs of Stella Sapiente, you quickly appreciate the band’s evolution as musicians from their Ramones-core origins. Effects are used to establish mood and emphasize the music brilliantly. The album radiates a dark, mysterious energy while keeping the speed and seriousness of The Too Late Show. This record may be The Lillingtons crowning achievement to date: showcasing a band at the peak of its songwriting ability pushing its own boundaries. This record isn’t a reinvention, its an evolution. My only real complaint is the length: like a dream, the record is over before you’re ready to wake up.

Stella Sapiente is available now through Fat Wreck Chords.

5/5 Stars



Album Review: Coffee Project – ‘Wasted Love’

If you’re not familiar with Coffee Project, let me give you a quick introduction. The duo hail from Gainesville and include Buddy from Less Than Jake and Jake who used to be in Rehasher. Imagine catchy and fast pop punk on an acoustic guitar, then add a trombone. Then imagine that every terrible band you’ve ever heard try something like this wasn’t terrible and were actually awesome. That’s basically Coffee Project. Their bandcamp says they “play upbeat catchy singalong acoustic songs that feel more like a punk rock show and less like a coffee shop gig” and that description is pretty accurate it seems.

That said, Coffee Project is truly one my favorite bands I feel I don’t hear enough from. Their new 7”, Wasted Love, which is out now on A-F Records (the label owned by Anti-Flag) comes off as a simple break up record upon seeing the artwork and hearing the title track. But I’m not sure that’s a fair analysis.

See, what I like about this record is that it reflects a breakup from multiple angles, not just the direct heartbreak and sad songs. It talks about frustration with social media, handling anxiety, and how the rest of the world may be perceived from someone who has just lost love, not just one’s inner feelings of grief.

It’s not my favorite thing the band has ever done, but there’s not a ton for me to analyze with only four short songs. They do a good job, as usual, of combining folk elements with punk energy without sounding like a typical folk punk band. It doesn’t feel like a release I can compare to their others, it just sounds like a continuation of what Coffee Project does.

Regardless, I’m going to give this a 3.5/5, (can I give them a 75%? C?) but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. I just wish it was longer and I had more to digest.

Go see Coffee Project at Fest this year, you won’t regret it. Listen to Wasted Love below, and please consider supporting the band and label.



Album Review: Sinai Vessel – “Brokenlegged”

I’m guessing most of you folks have heard of the Fest in Gainesville, Florida. Well I’m going this year and I’ve begun my prep work. As I listen to the bands that are slated to play, I’m struck by two things: 1. How could I not have heard of X band? 2. I definitely have to see X band. If I had the ability to split into multiple versions of myself like Ash in Army of Darkness, it would come in very handy from Oct 27-29. Alas, since I lack this gift, I’m going to have to make some tough decisions. One band that I’ve got underlined, circled and highlighted is Sinai Vessel. Once again, how have I never heard of these guys? For the others of the uninitiated, I’d describe SN thusly: If Ben Gibbard (Death Cab and Postal Service), Justin Pierre (Motion City Soundtrack), and Chris Crisci (Appleseed Cast) were fused together by a mad scientist and decided to form a Superchunk-inspired indie rock band. Sinai Vessel hails from North Carolina. Helmed by singer/songwriter Caleb Cordes, SN began as a project of his with a revolving cast of musicions. For Brokenlegged, Cordes has rounded out Sinai Vessel with a permanent bass (Daniel Hernandez) and drums (Joshua Herron).

Looseleaf kicks off the record and it pretty much exemplifies what the band is all about. A subtle arpeggio and strings arrangement gives way to noisy guitars and earnest vocals. I tried to categorize these guys as Indie, rather than break out the E word, just to save Sinai Vessel from being cast into the Emo Abyss; but Indie’s not a choice anymore. You’ll definitely catch the E vibe on Looseleaf though. Seriously if track one doesn’t make you a Sinai Vessel fan, then they are not for you. It’s a standout track on a record full of them. Ramekin slides in next and doesn’t vary the formula too much. Argeggio, jumpy beat, catchy. The subdued vocal style used by Cordes on this one drives home the Death Cab comparisons. Laughlin keeps the hits coming using the style that makes the entire record cohesive, no punches pulled here. Down with the Hull, Dogs, and Birthblood don’t vary from the formula that perfectly soothes what ails you. When the vocals kick in on Died on my Birthday, try to keep I’ll follow you into the dark out of your head. THIS IS A DIFFERENT SONG!! Typically the acoustic gear-shift song comes in last, just to send the record out on a mellow note. Not so on Brokenlegged. Sinai Vessel brings Cork of Worry last, a mellow tune, but with a sinister backbone.

I think this album caught me at a vulnerable moment because when I heard it, my heart felt like it was going to float out of my body. After many listenings, it stands up pretty well. Brokenlegged definitely popped into my top 10 of 2017 and, as mentioned earlier, Sinai Vessel is underlined, highlighted and circled on my Fest schedule. I’m ticking off the days ‘til Oct 27.

4.5/5 Stars



Album Review: Question Tuesday – “We Don’t Want What You’re Selling”

Anyone who knows me knows my taste follows the orbit laid out by Hot Water Music, Leatherface, and other aggro-melodic sad sack punk planets. I like some gravel, I like some distortion. I like post-hardcore when it goes full circle from breaking down the blank verse of hardcore and taking it to the rhymes and meter of traditional songwriting. Catchy, loud, powerful– that’s what I’m into. Question Tuesday are a satellite on a similar trajectory. Local to Portland, OR, worshiping at the altar of Leatherface, with an EP called We Don’t Want What You’re Selling.

Their sound is heavy riffs, beat-to-shit skins, trilling leads, and broken glass vocals. They run the line between shouted urgency and full throated singalongs. Six songs of punk rock that hearkens back to an era of growth, post revolution summer, as emocore and post-hardcore grew and adapted from their early scenes into the stuff that filled the rosters of No Idea Records before the turn of the millenia.

“Bring It Down” opens the EP with a riff that alternates between chugged power chords and the aforementioned trilling leads, punctuated with a charged vocal attack. “Black & Blue” features a busy guitar line beneath its verse that shows Question Tuesday playing with the basics of punk songwriting by not relying entirely on chord progressions to drive their songs. In fact, one of things I like the most about We Don’t Want What You’re Selling is that their leads are prominent as in the style of the genre, but never as an impersonation of it. Hot Water Music and Leatherface both have a pretty unique sound to their approach of lead guitar, but Question Tuesday takes their own way rather than copying what the other guys are known for. Their sound is a bit more straight rock ‘n roll, more rooted in melody, different enough to carve out their own identity.

There’s even some shades of 90s Epitaph here, with “Writing on the Walls’” frenetic double-time drumming near the middle of the song. The EP ends with “See a Glow,” which has a sort of dreamy pace, even with its thick guitar distortion. It contains some confessional lyricism like, “It’s alright to fall to pieces,” but the track isn’t as dynamic as I’d like and it’s run time is felt more than it should be.

We Don’t Want What You’re Selling is a strong release from a young band. Minor missteps are easy to forgive in a six-song EP, especially in one that so earnestly walks in the shoes of a sound out-of-vogue. Question Tuesday aren’t really reinventing anything here, but they aren’t stagnating it either– just using it as a springboard for self-expression. It’s where we all start, and for fans of the style, it’ll be interesting to see where Question Tuesday goes.

 

3.5/5



Album Review: Throw – “Real, Real Nice”

I saw Portland’s Throw open for Alone in Dead Bars (the solo version of Dead Bars). I’d heard a couple songs off their bandcamp and had a couple people say Real, Real Nice was a pretty damn good record. So, I went, I watched, I nodded along, and spent hard-earned cash on a cassette. And guess what? Yeah, Real, Real Nice was, well, basically what the title says.

Throw is a melodic punk band in the vein of Jeff Rosenstock, PUP, and a little Joyce Manor. They’re kind of hard to pin down, but if you had to apply a subgenre to them, you could probably be safe with indie punk. There’s a little emo in there too, but for the most part the songs are fast singalongs with a bit of a lo-fi aesthetic. So, put Pavement, Mom Jeans, and your favorite emotionally volatile punk singer and you might have something close to Throw. Opener “Corner Store” is filled with throat-shredding melodies and emo revival fretwork, the drums sound like firecrackers and it all coalesces into controlled demolition. Throw has energy to spare, with enough texture to their sound to hearken back to all of the bands who used punk as a springboard to greater creativity. The big choruses, driving rhythm, and instrumental sections of “The Floor” are a great example of Throw’s songcraft, continually building and releasing tension.

The songs are funny, and don’t last too long. That’s about the level of criticism you get included with a Big Mac, but it still stands. Writing songs is an art, but it takes an awareness of both what you want to do and how your audience will respond. Throw puts together quick songs with a lot of energy and some ear catching lines. My favorite track on Real, Real Nice is the finale, “Brunch Burrito,” which opens with the tattooable couplet: “I want you to cum on my face, I’ve had the worst fucking day.” Strong evidence for Throw knowing how to capture an audience’s attention.

Also, how refreshing to see a full fledged album that is just eight good songs. It surely could’ve been pushed a little further, but with this, and the aforementioned Dead Bars releasing shorter, succinct albums, I feel like this could be one of the best trends in DIY punk in years. Nothing wrong with keeping it short and sweet, and Real, Real Nice feels all the more cozy for it.

Throw is a cool band and if you like cool bands you haven’t heard of before, well, shit– you might like these guys. Twenty-something sad sack angst, riffs, twinkles, and big, meaty choruses, all delivered in an album that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. Real, Real Nice is the sort of album you hope comes out of your local scene– creative, honest, and catchy.

4/5

Listen here:



Album Review: Limp Wrist – ‘Facades’

Facades is Limp Wrist’s first collection of new songs in almost a decade and their first full length album in even longer- if Discogs is to be believed, they released their self-titled LP in 2001(!). It’s everything that you would want from a new Limp Wrist album. If you’re unfamiliar with the band (particularly if you’ve only been involved with punk rock for a handful of years), they, and I’m quoting vocalist Martin Sorrondeguy here, “put the ‘-core’ back in ‘queercore.’” Their brand of hardcore is similar to the way that Void and Cülo play hardcore: loud and vicious. Mix in the current political climate in America, and you’ve got a recipe for a great album.

Lyrically, Facades is just as sharp as the music, hitting topics that range between generational gaps (“experiences so old, what could old queens possibly know?” from “Wrap Yourself In Me”) and sexual identity (“men talk about my maleness and how I tamper with the line” from “They Tell Me”), to closeted politicians (“pass laws that harm and destroy / filthy mind- pretend to be straight / closeted you’re falling apart” from “Don’t Want You”) and the privileges of hetero culture (My Spanish is rusty, but I’m pretty sure that’s what “Como Vos” touches on). In one of the album’s more uplifting moments (if you can call it that), “Thick Skin” features advice to any young LGBTQI listeners.

In an abrupt twist, the album’s B-side takes a complete tonal and stylistic shift. The album’s final three tracks, “In My Mind,” “Dead Artist,” and “Systems in Place” are electronic-driven tunes, more akin to what you might expect at a rave in the early hours in the morning. They’re slow burners (if you’re throwing a dance party, don’t start with these tracks), falling somewhere between techno and maybe industrial? I don’t actually know, I’m very much out of my wheelhouse here. But that’s what makes the inclusion of these tracks great- it provides the listener, likely some dumb punk kid such as myself, with a way to see- err…hear- a different aspect of gay subcultures that can’t be expressed through Limp Wrist’s usual style.

Regardless of the genre that Limp Wrist decide to play, Facades is the type of punk album that we need in this day and age. We’re lucky that they’re back.

4.5 / 5

You can stream Facades below.

RIYL: Cülo, G.L.O.S.S., VOID



Album Review: AJJ – ‘Back in the Jazz Coffin’

AJJ’s Back in the Jazz Coffin was a nice little mid-summer surprise. There was no announcement about its release, and what little promotion there was for the mini-album has already taken a backseat to the band’s current tour celebrating the tenth anniversary of People Who Can Eat People Are the Luckiest People in the World. Which is okay, because even though Back in the Jazz Coffin is a fine listen it’s not exactly essential.

Back in the Jazz Coffin is mostly notable for scaling things back. The band has stripped away most of the instrumentation and members that they’ve added over the year, leaving the duo of Sean Bonnette and Ben Gallaty, best known as the band’s “classic lineup.” This lends a slight “back to basics” feeling on this album, so if your major complaints about Christmas Island and The Bible 2 were more about the oddball production and stylistic choices rather than the lyrical content, then this collection is for you. However, keep in mind that this is still the same band that did record the aforementioned albums, so even though they’ve scaled back here it’s still slicker than the bathroom recording quality of Plant Your Roots.

“American Body Rentals” is the band’s best intro track since “The Michael Jordan of Drunk Driving” off Knife Man, which is to say, rather than being a full fledged song, it’s a quick ditty that’s over in a flash but still manages to conjure up lyrically absurd images. Unfortunately, it’s mostly middle-of-the-road stuff from there. “Blood, Hatred, Money & Rage 2” and “Border Patrol (Yuma)” have some redeeming qualities: the former has some fun with words in the chorus (“blood, hatred, money and rage / that’s the food I eat / that’s the juicebox I crave”) and the latter would slide in easily somewhere between “Backpack” and “Linda Ronstadt.” The same can’t really be said for “My Crooked Leg,” which is just kind of there.

The highlight of this collection is the final track, “Fuckboi.” In true AJJ fashion, the song tells an uncomfortable tale with coming to terms about being a terrible human in the past, and having to live with that in the present. “I don’t deserve the chance to say I’m sorry but I must because I have to live with me. I have to live inside of me,” the narrator sings to a pregnant woman that he previously mistreated. It’s not easy to come to terms with realizing the awful things you’ve said or done in the past- and it’s even harder when you realize that no matter how badly you feel about it, you’ll never feel as badly as you made them feel and saying “sorry” isn’t going to be enough to heal every wound. As uncomfortable as it can make the listener feel, “Fuckboi” is AJJ at the top of their game.

Back in the Jazz Coffin will be fun to revisit occasionally, but first and final tracks aside, it doesn’t make a very big splash in AJJ’s discography. Completists and fanatics will gobble it up, but the casual listener is best off waiting for the next LP that gets the full promotional treatment instead of a single Facebook post.

3 / 5 Stars

You can stream Back in the Jazz Coffin below.

RIYL: Ramshackle Glory, Mischief Brew, Mountains Goats (circa 2002)



Album Review: Hot Water Music – “Light It Up”

Before Hot Water Music was a band I loved, they were a band I wanted to love. From the outside looking in, there’s an undeniable something about the band’s output that makes you wish you were a part of it. Maybe it’s the minor cult of personality surrounding Chuck Ragan– Hemingway-styled man’s man and gravel-throated troubadour. It could be the name too, Hot Water Music— a name shared with a short story collection by Charles Bukowski. Then, of course, there’s the music itself. At once groove-based, experimental, airy, and tightly interlocked– then also, inherently singable, loud and anthemic. With so many ideas making up the core of Hot Water Music, it’s easy to forget that the actual core of the band is four people: Chuck, Chris, George, and Jason. And more than anything, how each member irreplaceably contributes is what makes all the difference.

I have fond memories of Fuel for the Hate Game, it was my first Hot Water Music album, and as music cliches go, it’ll probably always be my favorite. I had already heard Fugazi, so I at least had a band to namecheck against its post-hardcore approach to melody and rhythm. “Turnstile” the most unabashed punk banger on the album, reeled me into the new waters, and soon the rest of the album followed. By the time Exister came out, I felt like a seasoned fan, rolling around in the muck and excitement of a new Hot Water release.

Well, we’ve come to the end of one release cycle and entered a new one. Fittingly, it’s time to write one of my favorite collections of words: Hot Water Music is back. Light It Up wants you to know from the get-go that it is a Hot Water Music album, both a continuation of what they’ve been doing years and a sonic scrapbook. Before you even start spinning, the album artwork hearkens back to the wonderful and abstract cubism of Scott Sinclair’s art. Then, there’s also the fact that this album, for the first time since Fuel for the Hate Game, is totally produced by the band. For better or worse, this release carries with it the same weight as a self-titled album. Hot Water Music wants you to know they’re back, and across Light It Up, they’re exploring everything that makes them unique.

Light It Up is a latter-day Hot Water Music album, so game-changing is out of the question. In this stage of any band’s career, there are few boundaries to adequately explore that don’t feel perfunctory or worse, stale. The best you can hope for from a band with a handful of classic albums is that their new stuff is what they’re excited about playing. And continuing the theme of distilling the essence of Hot Water Music– the time honored back to roots approach of latter-day album making– they have reintroduced some of the band’s old idiosyncrasies that were sadly missing from Exister. The Chris Wollard led tracks are the most obvious in these regards, as they usually are. “Vultures” verses are shouted, a throwback to the band’s own hardcore influence and “Overload” is carried by the bass fills that have been with the band since the start. On “Show Your Face,” we get to hear a more aggressive Chuck Ragan delivery than usual, with him barking the opening verse. Hearing Chuck tap into his punk side a little more on this album is a real treat, as I thought some of the most off-notes of Exister were when it felt like we got the electric B-sides of a Revival Tour jam. He actually delivers the angriest track this time around– “Sympathizer”– a mid-tempo banger with a nasty minor-key riff that punctuates lines like, “It’s safe to say you burned our bridge!” It’s an easy standout in an album full of quality songs.

“Bury Your Idols” is a Chuck Ragan-belter that begs to be screamed along to in sweaty crowds. This song and others, bring to mind that as Hot Water Music has aged, they have settled comfortably into a punk rock sound that takes as much from early Bad Religion as Fugazi. The hearty and melodic woahs that appear across Light It Up make the case well, and while I could argue it strays the band further from their core (but, I could also point to “Wayfarer” off Caution and wonder what the fuck I’m talking about in the first place), they execute everything with such gusto that it’s hard to say any one element doesn’t belong. Big woahs aren’t what I go to a Hot Water Music album for, but they make for sweaty communion in the live setting. And if anything, that might be what has guided the band from an angular post-hardcore outfit to gritty anthem-writers– it’s hard to project yourself onto twisting rhythms, but traditional songwriting is tried and true and more connective than most of us want to admit. The fact that Hot Water Music hasn’t totally bled out all of their abrasion is a minor miracle. “Light It Up” is literally a marriage between the past and present, one of their fastest tracks in a long time, filled with fast-spitting vocals and yes, a big woah chorus.

The album closes with “Take You Away,” an impassioned track with a killer lead vocal performance from Chuck Ragan and some call and response. And I think, that is essentially why Light It Up works so well. It’s not groundbreaking for Hot Water Music, but it makes good on every disparate element of their music and delivers in the spirit, if not the exact formula– it’s passionate, but also, it has integrity. It comes through in the vocal performances, the emocore-hearkening lead on “Rabbit Key,” the fluid basslines on “Complicated,” and George Rebelo’s glue like drumming that keeps so many strong voices on the same team without losing his own.

Again, I take a deep breath and say my favorite words: Hot Water Music is back. Light It Up is a record of songs that wanted to be written, an album that respects the past without slaving to it. As an entity, Hot Water Music has already made their bones, and with Light It Up, they’re telling the world they plan to keep them.

4/5



EP Review: No Trigger – “Adult Braces”

Once the initial thrill upon hearing that a band has ended their self-imposed hiatus and are returning with fresh recordings passes, there is that unmistakable feeling of trepidation. Will there still be the spark and crackle of passion, invention and enthusiasm that made them so special or will it just be a tired old retread of what came before? The last twitch of a band who should just be put out of their misery.

Massachusetts, melodic punk/ hardcore band No Trigger have been around since the year 2000 with their last album, “Tycoon”, coming all the way back in 2012. A lot can happen in 5 years so it is with that familiar feeling of excitement and apprehension that the band mark their return with this 4 track EP. Thankfully, “Adult Braces” is an inspired and welcome return for the band who serve up 4 tight, punchy anthems ready for immediate consumption.

“Sleeping Bag” starts things off in typically bracing fashion with a tightly wound hardcore riff that crashes face first into a bouncy, melodic punk chorus. Their sound sits somewhere between Strike Anywhere and Good Riddance and, while it may not be wholly original, when it’s done this well and with this amount of raw, burning passion, who cares? The band have a veteran’s understanding of how to stitch together tough, brawny hardcore and brighter, more upbeat pop-punk with each song elevated still further by singer Tom Rheault’s introspective lyrics. As he bawls lines “I’ve been dreaming/another night in hell”  it’s clear that each song is a cathartic opportunity for him to  lay his frustrations and pent-up fury bare.  “Holy Punks” is a similarly disaffected anthem which sees Rheault address the uncertainties of having to navigate your 30s and the very real pressures to “grow up”.

“Dogs On Acid” is another prime example of the band’s perfect blend of intense, hardcore verses and more anthemic, melodic punk choruses. After the hushed, lo-fi strums of an acoustic guitar it quickly becomes a full on oral assault as Rheult’s urgent tirades tangle with roaring guitars and quick fire drums. EP closer, “Hyperaware”, deviates subtly from what precedes it as the band cram a lifetime’s worth of musical lessons into 3 and a half minutes. The crisp, post-hardcore lead guitar line that buttresses the vocals,and the atmospheric verses are pure A Wilhelm Scream. While the bone-rattlingly infectious chorus and the quiet/loud bridge that sees the rest of the band recede behind a dam of pounding drums before roaring back to life, show a subtle touch similar to that of Hot Water Music.

Fans may be disappointed at the brevity of this EP but it serves as a tasty reminder of what we’ve been missing since the band went into hibernation. Let’s just hope the band doesn’t wait so long next time.

4/5 Stars