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Album Review: Bundles – “Deaf Dogs”

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Album Review: Brian Fallon – ‘Sleepwalkers’

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

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

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

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

4 / 5

RIYL: Dave Hause, Ship Thieves, Counting Crows

EP Review: Good Grief – “Sweet”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Album Review: No Use For A Name “Rarities Vol. I: The Covers”

A couple of years ago I concluded my review of No Use For A Name’s All The Best Songs (reissue) with the plea for a NUFAN b-sides and rarities compilation to be released sometime in the future. This past summer I got my wish with Rarities Vol. I: The Covers. Note the best part of the title: Vol. I – there will be more!!!

The album kicks off with The Vapors’ “Turning Japanese” which was recorded for the classic Vagrant Records compilation Before You Were Punk (how great were the nineties for punk compilations?). In fact, die-hard No Use fans will recognize many of these songs already. I had thought I was die-hard, and am ashamed for not knowing more of these tracks ahead of time.

Fat Wreck Chords promoted the album in part by releasing “Hybrid Moments” in the weeks leading up to the release date. No Use’s version was met with mild criticism for having slightly different lyrics than the original. This reviewer doesn’t care. Tony’s imitation of The Misfits’ lead singer Glenn Danzig is fantastic, complete with the exaggerated vibrato which was probably intentional, but maybe not.

One of the joys of recording cover songs for a band has to be the opportunity to do things you don’t usually get to do. “I’ve Heard” (Dag Nasty) is a throwback for No Use; even in 1997, when it was recorded, No Use hadn’t been a hardcore band in several years. And how about that cheesy synthesizer sound in Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence”?

While punk bands generally relegate cover songs to compilations or ep releases, No Use For A Name didn’t shy away from including cover songs on their proper albums. Leche Con Carne, Making Friends, More Betterness, and Hard Rock Bottom contained one unoriginal song each. These four tracks were not included on this Rarities compilation, although a different and earlier version of “Fairytale of New York” is unearthed here.

These thirteen tracks were all recorded by Ryan Greene – who produced most of No Use’s best-known material – between 1996 and 2005. “Dream Police” has that over-produced quality found on Keep Them Confused, recorded the same year, but overall the recordings have a pure stripped-down punk rock sound to them, even taking into account the aforementioned synthesizer.

Still, some songs were previously unreleased. For example, No Use was going to release “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” on something until Me First and the Gimme Gimmes put it on their show tunes album, so the No Use version just sat on the shelf until now. Also, “The Munsters’ Theme” and their early version of “Fairytale of New York” were unreleased until now (I think).

One of the true highlights is “Badfish”, recorded for the Sublime tribute album back in 2006. “Badfish” is a great song, NUFAN’s arrangement is excellent, and it features some of Tony’s finest singing. Years after it was released, this track has an eerie aura to it. Bradley Nowell of Sublime had been the poster boy for punk/ska geniuses gone too soon; now Tony Sly stands by his side.

The Feel Good Moment of the Album comes at the end. “Beth” shouldn’t be new to NUFAN fans as it was the secret track on Making Friends, but on Rarities it is that much more effective. As the Kiss cover song comes to an end on this posthumous No Use For A Name release, the band refuses to stop and instead breaks into the main guitar riff of NUFAN’s greatest song “Soulmate” (if this doesn’t give you chills, you’re dead inside) before the ensemble disintegrates, giving way to a final rendition of “Gene and Paul I Hate You Most of All”.

NUFAN fans rejoice – the title implies that there will be at least a second volume. There is also talk of a boxed set, a video documentary, and even a No Use and Friends tour. I want all of this to happen and I want it to happen NOW! But I’ll wait, even if I can’t wait.

4 / 5 Stars

Album Review: Green Day “Greatest Hits: God’s Favorite Band”

I never much got into Frenzal Rhomb, so last year when Fat Wreck Chords released a Frenzal Rhomb “best of” album, I gladly picked it up. I’ve come to embrace “best of” albums, retrospectives, and anthologies. I always like the Frenzal Rhomb songs I heard on Fat compilations, etc., but for some reason that never translated into album purchases. Suckers like me who still pay for music can’t own every album by every band. So rather than go broke buying Frenzal Rhomb’s entire back catalog, or kill myself researching which of their albums is The Absolute Best One To Own, now I’ve got thirty-three of their self-professed best songs covering twenty years, and a pretty good idea of what The Rhomb is all about.

Green Day is different. Green Day is a household name. Like most punk fans my age, Green Day was the first punk band I ever listened to, this before I’d even heard the term “punk” referring to a musical genre. I haven’t considered Green Day one of my top five favorite bands since middle school, but I still own everything they’ve put out. Now they’ve put out a greatest hits album with twenty-one songs I already own, and one brand new song. Why buy it? Because I’ve been buying Green Day albums for twenty-three years. Habits die hard.

Songs missing from Greatest Hits: God’s Favorite Band include “J.A.R.”, “Geek Stink Breath”, “Walking Contradiction”, “Nice Guys Finish Last”, “Redundant”, “Waiting”, and “Macy’s Day Parade” – all of which were considered “Superhits” back in 2001 – as well as “Maria”, “Let Yourself Go”, “X-Kid”, and “Revolution Radio”, among others that were released as singles but not popular enough to make the cut. Green Day has had a lot of hits.

As noted, this is Green Day’s second greatest hits album, the first being the unfortunately titled International Superhits!. Billie Joe, Mike, and Tre have been fortunate to have the mainstream success few punk bands have had. They can get away with calling their “best of” album International Superhits! and Greatest Hits: God’s Favorite Band. Other bands with far fewer mainstream hits, if any, resort to naming their “best of” albums something like All The Best Songs, The Greatest Songs Ever Written (By Us), or Greatest Hit…And More.

Still, regardless of the album title, there isn’t a whole lot of variety as to how these things are organized. On both of theirs, Green Day has organized the track listings chronologically, a practice also followed by Screeching Weasel, Anti-Flag, The Who, and The Clash, to name a few. Part of me doesn’t like this as it is unimaginative and a copout – I would love to hear “Longview” mixed between “Oh Love” and “Bang Bang” – but it does give the listener an accurate overview of a band’s progression throughout its career.

The other common practice is throwing a previously unreleased song onto a greatest hits album to give the super fan who already owns everything a reason to buy it. This isn’t universally followed – Frenzal Rhomb, for instance – but more often than not some sort of rarity gets thrown on; heck, even The Beatles had an unreleased song on volumes 1 and 2 of their anthology, and John Lennon had been dead for fifteen years. These new songs are typically put either at the beginning or the very end of the album, although Strung Out took the high road and mixed in their three new songs throughout Top Contenders.

Green Day added “Back in the USA”, a brand new original song with an unoriginal title. The song is solid, upbeat, political, and is indicative of what Green Day’s purist fans want to hear: something resembling a punk song. But wait…there is also a new version of “Ordinary World”, one of Green Day’s all-time most boring songs, made slightly more interesting here with Miranda Lambert’s harmonies on top of Billie Joe’s voice; one listen to this and you’ll wonder if Green Day has gone country.

What I don’t understand is this: why not be comprehensive? Why not release something like Singles Vol. 1 and include every minor internet-only and TV soundtrack single, and then five years from now release Singles Vol. 2? I mean, “J.A.R.” is a great song.

But then, who are these albums for, anyway? Not for the super fan, clearly. No, greatest hits albums are for the casual fan, or even the new fan, like how I’ve just gotten to know Frenzal Rhomb through a retrospective. God’s Favorite Band is for the fifteen-year-old making minimum wage at McDonald’s who just heard “Still Breathing” on the radio and wonders what else the band has done since a decade before she was born.

One new song and one alternate version out of twenty-two tracks – I have mixed feelings about this as well. I won’t argue with those who call it a cheap gimmick. On the other hand, I love new music and will accept new music any way I can get it. If you’re a sucker like me who still pays money for music, is “Back in the USA” enough to blow twelve bucks on? Looks like it. I bought it, after all.

3.5/5 Stars

Album Review: Guerilla Poubelle – “La Nausée”

When I first heard that Red Scare– perhaps the best and brightest in the world of melodic punk labelship– was signing French political punks Guerilla Poubelle, I couldn’t help but think: perfect. I was taken back to my high school days, when I, a teenaged francophile, used to listen to “Mon Rat S’appelle Judas” constantly in an attempt to immerse myself in the French language while nurturing my love of gritty, catchy punk rock. A decade later and I still don’t speak French, but I do still love punk. Seeing the name Guerilla Poubelle brings me back to the good ol’ days, and the fact that it’s attached to my favorite punk label is just icing on the cake. La Nausée is as good a reintroduction as any, and along the way manages to be, uh, very bon.

If you haven’t heard Guerilla Poubelle before, you might be surprised at how familiar the keywords happen to be. Raw, aggressive, throaty, melodic, catchy, pop punk, political. Think of all the stuff that grew out of Gainesville, the gravel inflected punk with the big choruses. Chunkier and less spritely than Against Me!, harder and less emo than Radon. As political as Propagandhi but nowhere near as musically ambitious. They sound like Dead Bars, if Dead Bars sang about existentialism and laid off the pure rock ‘n roll worship. Guerilla Poubelle is loud, fast, and philosophical.

It goes to say, this is a tough album to review. Despite my lifelong interest in the language and culture, I do not speak French in any actual productive way, so the lyrics are mostly lost on me. The bits and pieces I can understand (or glean from the titles/google translate) point to a rabble-rousing politi-punk album steeped heavily in Sartre’s existentialism. A short trek to their bandcamp page shows the band explaining (in English) the inspirations for their songs. Opening track, “Je ne possède que mon corps,” which translates to “I have only my body,” was inspired directly by a passage from Sartre’s La Nausée. Others were created in response to speeches by French president Emmanuel Macron, and others, like “Identité rigide” are more personal– but still very political– exploring the crushing weight of gender expectations. Reading through what the band has to say about their own music points to a group very aware and adept at finding their muses through current events. As a literature nerd, I find La Nausée especially interesting– to see a group name their album after a book by Sartre is weird, cool, and maybe even a little  pretentious, but I can’t help but be charmed by it. Guerilla Poubelle are the bohemian artist-types that have been sadly missing from the shout-along punk world. The heady subject matter and lit pedigree make the songs feel like heavier, more intensely intimate creations.

But make no mistake, La Nausée has bangers. Yeah, it’s a smart punk album about how the world is going to shit, but it’s doing it through some straight up punk anthems. First track “Je ne possède que mon corps,” starts with nothing but  some guttural vocals and a persistently strummed chord. Soon, the drum and bass come in, and then the backing vocals, and when it all comes together, it’s easy to imagine the kind of singalongs that happen on Guerilla Poubelle’s home turf. “Ceux Qui Ne Sont Rien” maintains the momentum with a big gang vocaled chorus, and “Identité rigide” brings the mosh. My favorite song on La Nausée comes late in the album, titled “Les fils et les filles des sorcières que vous n’avez pas brûlées.” An incredibly badass title, translated to: “The Sons and Daughters of the Witches You Didn’t Burn.” In the band’s own words, the song “…is a tribute to the feminists who fought for women’s rights. There is a reference to the “Manifesto of the 343 Sluts”, a statement signed in 1971 by 343 notable women admitting publicly that they had an abortion when it was still illegal in France, exposing themselves to criminal penalty of course. It was followed by a manifesto signed by doctors claiming “We want freedom of abortion. It is entirely the woman’s decision. We reject any entity that forces her to defend herself, perpetuates an atmosphere of guilt, and allows underground abortions to persist” This led to the abolition of criminal prosecution for voluntarily terminating a pregnancy.” It’s a great idea for a song, but before even knowing it’s context, I was taken away by the strength of its gang vocaled melody. Even without the translation, it sounds like a rallying cry in a world that could take a little more rallying.

If there’s one thing I love, it’s punk albums that feel conceived. There’s a lot of rock ‘n roll out there that comes together as a collection of individual songs, written to be written and nothing more. With La Nausée, there is purpose. It feeds on ideas, as well as personal experience, to create art that has been forged in the fires of political strife. When we talk about art imitating life, or life imitating art, we talk about them like they are simply mirrors of each other. As if they are two distinct elements of existence that can’t aspire to anything more than reflection. With La Nausée, I feel those mirrors melting, intertwining. It’s a punk album as concerned with ideas as Sartre or Camus– the writers who fit their philosophies onto the bones of novels, now being referenced by a punk band who fit their ideas onto the bones of an album. It’s the marriage of art and life, as well as a celebration of intertextuality. In the end, whichever La Nausée you prefer, I think we can all agree there’s only one with which we could singalong.

4/5 Stars

Album Review: Tim Barry – “High On 95”

Tim Barry seems to age like a fine wine. The new record, High On 95, brings a softer more laid back Tim Barry; the same thought out lyrics we’re used to, but with a softer delivery. There’s a good balance of folk with just a tinge of punk angst.

When comparing this to past albums you can hear the maturity come through in the songwriting and delivery. It is a good testament to Barry’s growth as a solo artist. The track “O&DP” gives us the catchy punk driven sound we love Tim Barry for. The lyrics “I do a lot of walkin’ and thinkin’, it never really makes much sense. If you’re wantin’ to talk you’ll have to wait till I’m done thinkin'” just sort of resonate. With an underlying punk attitude but delivered in a more mature refined manner it’s a place where punk meets sophistication. Likewise, the same could be said of “Riverside”, whose fairly aggressive lyrics are delivered in a soothing calm way that sounds perfect coming from Tim Barry.

All in all, in this writers opinion this is a great listen. Top to bottom it’s a well written album, every song tells a story. The music behind each story slides along like butter on a warm skillet. High On 95 delivers a softer but more complete and mature Tim Barry. It’s a perfect album for a warm fall day; do yourself a favor and give it a listen.

High on 95 was released September 8th via Chunksaah Records. Get yours here.

4/5 Stars

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.



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