Search Results for "Album Review"

Album Review: Gnarwolves – “Outsiders”

Gnarwolves was always a band on the periphery of my vision. They were a band that came swinging hard with EP after EP (helpfully gathered in Chronicles of Gnarnia); they played skate punk with a bit more hardcore in the mix than usual, with breakdowns and melodies galore. Every Gnarwolves song had that youthful energy where you could imagine them all in a room, riffing hard, trying to make each other smile with what they could pull off. “Melody Has Big Plans,” for me, is the culmination of all their best elements– it is bleak and loud, catchy and aggressive, with earnest twenty-something yearning. Then they released a pretty great full-length that had me nodding along, but also wondering if the best days were already over.

Now, with Outsiders, I wasn’t really expecting anything. As a punk fan, I’ve learned to turn off the part of my brain that expects things. Bands change their sound, topics evolve, all that jazz. When we collectively look back on the mess that was Against Me!’s entire career and subsequent fan response and cringe, we will be thankful level heads prevail in the future. Outsiders is another step in Gnarwolves development as a band, and as a sophomore album it represents a departure from their last album, and an even larger departure from their EPs. In fact, I won’t even bury the lead: Outsiders doesn’t hit for me. It’s competent, for sure, and sometimes it does shine, but the overall takeaway for me was a lot of shrugging.

We have moved into Flatliners territory, we are hanging with the Menzingers. The latter of which I love more than most, but it takes chops to pull off what they do. Slice of life storytelling put to melody– wistful and romantic as it is, can turn to something saccharine or worse, insubstantial, in less deft hands. And that is where part of my apathy to Outsiders originates. Gnarwolves have shifted gears into something different, and that is dandy, but they are not pulling it off. There are moments where it all comes together, for sure, but for the large part, Outsiders passes by without a single moment of recognition, no connection or feeling communicated. The album leaves you struggling to remember a single song. Gnarwolves skate punk anthems have been rounded down into a grey area between the melodic punk they’re taking influence from and the aggression-forward sound that is still their basis. It results in a weird, not very satisfying twilight where the drums are fast and the guitars are trebly, rolled back on both distortion and attitude. If it were dynamic, it would work. Their first album did this, with open note stuff that chimes then explodes into ripping chordage. Here, it is all melded together into something flat and uninspired.

Which is a shame, because Outsiders doesn’t ever really fail. It’s hard to review a band when they do everything right in the execution phase. They play well, the album sounds good, it’s just what they’re choosing to do isn’t particularly interesting. For the most part, the songwriting loses its punch with the instrumentation, but there are songs that do push through and do become memorable on repeat listens. Album opener “Straightjacket” is one of them, and it succeeds through its pop punk veracity, while not necessarily saying anything too interesting. “Argument” is probably the best song on the album, and that’s because of the easy resonation of the pre-chorus refrain of “resist, resist, resist!”

I have absolutely fallen into the punk rock trap of turning on a band that didn’t deliver what I expected. And that’s why this is a hard review to write. I know that for some people, this album will work, but for me, I can’t escape just how middling it is in comparison of the energy and enthusiasm of early Gnarwolves. Their perspective used to be fresh and exciting, and on Outsiders we see it giving way to age and new ideas, but not all of them good. There are ways to age gracefully, but Outsiders makes me wonder if Gnarwolves were a band never destined to grow old.

2.5/5



Album Review: Sorority Noise – “You’re Not As ____ As You Think”

I got my daughter’s  report card last week.  It listed out all of these qualities, “Attention to Detail” “Drawing inside the lines”; and all down the line, the teacher checked “Meets Expectations.”  The only category that got “Exceeds Expectations” was “Sits Quietly in Class.”  A chip off the old block.  It got me thinking.  “Meets Expectations” is good.  There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s normal.  Now let’s consider this theory in the context of Sorority Noise’s third full length, You’re not as ___ as you think. After having “Forgettable” on heavy rotation, I have certain expectations.  As far as sound I’d say SN is 3 parts Say Anything, 1 part each of Conor Oberst, The Promise Ring, and Brand New; throw the whole thing in a Chicago Meat Grinder and enjoy.  So what were my expectations for You’re Not…?  I was expecting the band to clean up the low-fi aesthetic for something a little more polished, the usual for a maturing band.  I also figured SN would move away from the relationship/cigarette/stale beer-soaked angst into some more introspective subject matter.  I got all of that, but I got more, a lot more.

Sorority Noise hails from Hartford Connecticut. After listening to their earlier work, I would have sworn they were from Chicago.  It just feels like the recording process took place in a run-down apartment in the dead of winter with stale beer and cigarettes permeating the air.  The opening track of You’re not, “No Halo”, does a hell of a job clearing the air.  Gone are the Say Anything-esque drunken hooligan chants.  The smashing guitars replaced by piercingly-clean notes accentuated by harmonics.  When frontman Cameron Boucher hits the chorus, “So I didn’t show up to your funeral, I showed up to your house…” the guitars come crashing in reminiscent of that stagnant apartment in their not so distant past.  The lyrics most definitely have matured as the band tackles existentialism, loss, religion, and depression.  On the second track, “A Portrait Of” we get it all thrown into one.  At this point in the record, the tempo shifts, the dynamics, the choruses bring reminders of Brand New and/or Taking back Sunday,  the reason for this?  Mike Sapone who worked the boards for both of those bands is at the controls on You’re not.

The life and death theme continues in “First Letter from St. Sean” where Boucher wrestles with the loss of a close friend.  “A better Sun” rises next to drive away the darkness… or not.  Did I mention introspection?  “And it’s hard. So hard. And breathing, it just makes it worse.  And it’s bad. So bad. That it hurts.”  If you hadn’t noticed, Boucher is in some pain on this record and he lets it all bleed out.  “Disappeared” touches again on the loss of his friend Sean, and the pain of looking in the mirror and contemplating your own existence.  The drunken hooligan chants make a not-so-triumphant return, this time serving more like angry voices conflicting in his head “I let my hair down today and I took a shower for the first time in what felt like weeks.”  The themes of loss and its effect on our lives and relationships continues through the record.  The music, like raw emotions,  gets stripped down to the bone.  By the end we are left with more questions than answers.  When you experience loss and the depression that follows; the only solace to find is in giving up on both the answers and the questions and just living.

My conclusion…  some records don’t meet or exceed expectations, so I crossed those choices out, wrote “defies expectations” and put a check next to it.

4/5 Stars



The Dirty Nil – ‘Minimum R&B’

Since the birth of punk, numerous fledgling bands have learnt their craft through the release of limited edition 7” and EPs. In this, the internet age, platforms such as bandcamp have made it fundamentally easier and more economically viable for bands and smaller labels to release these offerings and gradually build a following before launching into the critical and commercial minefield that is releasing your debut album. This is exactly the path followed by Canadian rockers, The Dirty Nil. Their phenomenal debut album Higher Power was the culmination of everything they had learnt from five years of recording and, for many, it was their first introduction to a band who are quickly forging a reputation as one of the most exciting rock bands around. Thankfully, Dine Alone and Fat Wreck Chords have joined together to offer a fascinating insight into the creative growth of the band by releasing this compilation of all of their 7”s and EPs to date. Now those who have had their appetite whetted by Higher Power  can take a trip through their history to find a band who, from the very beginning, have been making nose-bleed inducing, scuffed up, perfect slacker anthems.

Debut single “Fucking Up Young” saw the band come out swinging with a thrillingly raw and infectious single that has to rank as one of the best debut singles of the modern era. The bare bones production and the rough and ready scuzzy guitars are refreshingly gritty and authentic, coming across like an old, dusty artifact of the band’s origins. It perfectly captures that moment in time where the band threw themselves into what (for all they knew) could have been their only shot at cutting a single. The band hadn’t had to time to overthink things, just plug in and play. It helps that their sound had already been honed through years of touring as the take sounds live with stop-start, wigged out guitars and short sharp bursts of percussion. The B-side from the single “Verona Lung” is a similarly spiky, unpolished gem of an alt-rock song which combines the deceptive simplicity of Pixies and the vulnerable howl of Rivers Cuomo.

Next up comes “Little Metal Baby Fist” and “Hate is a Stone” from their “Little Baby Fist” EP – “Little Baby Fist” blends together equal parts Husker Du, The Replacements and Fugazi to leave an uncompromising, explosive punk song with a hook you could hang a T-Rex from. Their 2014 7”, “Cinnamon” b/w “Guided By Vices”, their first for Fat Wreck Chords, has a grungier feel but is anything but derivative, coming across like a lost Nirvana cover of the Vaselines from their Incesticide album. “Guided by Vices” in particular has a riff that could instantly oxygenate your blood as the band coil a classic rock n roll riff into an incendiary ball of noise.

“Nicotine”, “Beat”, “New Flesh” and “Pale Blue” all come from 2014’s “Smite” EP. “Nicotine” distorts a standard blues shuffle  while“Beat” kicks in the door, taking the classic punk sound of The Damned and views it through the prism of 80’s DC Hardcore. “New Flesh” shows a more hardcore side to the band with the band kneeling at the altar of hardcore legends Minor Threat. Original bass player Dave Nardi takes over vocal duties to scream himself inside out as the band pummel through a full throttle slab of abrasive, caustic hardcore. Closer “Caroline” is a mid-tempo waltz which sees the band combine their sound with classic 60s melodies. It builds to a swirling whirl of biting guitars with singer Luke Bentham howling and lamenting through the din.
This compilation acts as the perfect introduction for those taken in by their hook-laden, riff-heavy, fiery debut and are thirsty for more. It’s an exhilarating flick through their discography to date and after repeated listening it doesn’t feel so much a compilation as an early greatest hits record.

4.5/5 Stars



Album Review: Travis James & the Acrimonious Assembly of Arsonists / Diego Galvan- ‘Hostility // Heartbreak

As long as I have known the enigmatic Phoenix folk-punk Travis James, he has been threatening to retire from songwriting and performing, and yet still here he is with a fresh new offering in the form of a split EP with his co-conspirator Diego Galvan. The two crusty buskers have been carrying on a social media bromance for more than a year now, so it makes perfect sense that they’d decide to band together for a team-up record.

Hostility/Heartbreak is a noisy little 8-song album where both James and Galvan lay bare some raw emotions, and it really shows through on their well recorded (for folk-punks) EP.

The record starts off very punchy as most James recordings tend to with the track “Enough.” The song is upbeat and drum-driven with Aaron Hjalmarson turning in a stellar percussion performance while James’s brilliantly simple lyrics make it meaty enough to grasp on to. “I’m setting out to prove that I’ve got nothing to prove, and I’ll prove it, don’t assume it’s got something to do with you,” says James in the track’s chorus as his almost supervillain-like cackle rises above the thunderous cacophony made by his Acrimonious Assembly of Arsonists.

But as punchy as “Enough” is, the fiercest fighter on the record might just be the the third track “Like it or Not,” where James seems to shed his persona as the Penguin of Punk and takes on a sound best described as the Oogie Boogie Man of Anarchy. The track is a huge accordion-driven show tune, brought to life by TJAAA’S own Voldemort of the keys Mark Sunman and delivered masterfully. The song also satisfies James’ tradition of having a waltz on every album.

Galvan brings a little less of the World Inferno/Friendship Society side of folk-punk and a whole lot more of the Johnny Hobo side. There is much less musicality and far more lyrically driven tunes banged out on an acoustic guitar. While James is an over-the-top cartoon character when he is inside of his songs, Galvan is as much an everyman as one can possibly be.

The Heartbreak side of Hostility/Heartbreak is a pretty minimal piece of music. It’s just Galvan on guitar and vocals, some percussion, and a female backing vocalist, but it’s beautiful in its simplicity; the young punk really shows off some songwriting chops and a knack for arranging a great pop song.

This first taste of Galvan comes off as an homage to his folk-punk forebears, but it also hints at tremendous upside for a young artist who is just getting going on his musical path.

4/5 Stars



Album Review: The Isotopes – ‘1994 World Series Champions’

Ah, baseball. The classic game that brings families together. Is there anything more iconic of America’s more positive aspects? Perhaps The Simpsons, depending on which seasons you’re talking about. Fittingly enough, The Isotopes (who hail from the Great White North, it should be noted) bring these two American pastimes together. Named after Springfield’s minor league team, The Isotopes write sweet and catchy pop punk tunes about one thing, and one thing only: baseball.

Imagine if the first two Riverdales albums had the same glossy production as Masked Intruder, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what to expect from The Isotopes’ latest album, 1994 World Series Champions (for those who are too lazy to look it up: the title is a reference to the fact that there was no World Series in 1994, thus there was no team to win the championship). Only one song on the album passes the two and a half minute mark, with only a third of remaining nine tracks breaking two minutes at all. There are several references to the Sandlot, former major league players, and not wanting the season to end. On the punk end of the spectrum, the album begins with a slight Germs reference (“What We Do Ain’t Secret”) and ends with a Black Flag-like chant, if Black Flag weren’t so rigid (“Sandlot Party”).

Is it gimmicky? Yeah, it most certainly is. But that doesn’t stop it from being any less fun. Pop punk is rarely about reinventing the wheel, and is more about catchy sing-along tunes. The Isotopes know exactly what they’re playing at, and they don’t hide it at all.

4 / 5

RIYL: Riverdales, The Hextalls, Masked Intruder



EP Review: Fitness – “Puppet Show”


Chicago’s Fitness is a band that hit me out of nowhere. We get a handful of band’s like that every year, the sort that send you reeling with a name you’ve never heard and a sound you’re glad you had. In this case, the connection was Don’t Panic Records, who handled the vinyl of the fantastic Davey Dynamite release last year. Fitness’ Puppet Show is a six song EP, a youthful and scrappy concoction of pop punk with tons of guitar leads, self loathing, and sing a longs.  

Puppet Showgrabs you from the first song, immediately familiar and simultaneously new. If you sniff around, you can hear the influences, but none of them ever quite come to define their sound. The first one that came to mind for me was Hot Water Music, who’s dueling guitar leads became an oft-copied sonic idiosyncrasy, but Fitness don’t play it with the same post-hardcore edge. When Fitness plays them, they have a more electric, less serpentine and melancholy feel. It’s this pop sensibility that signals Fitness as more than a band of Gainesville acolytes. They don’t have that droney edge, that sense that they ended up writing singalong songs through mad scientist potion mixing, deconstruction and rebuilding. No, Fitness has a knack for pop songwriting, strong melodies are the glue that holds their songs together, and in this sense they sound a bit like Junior Battles or Problem Daughter. But, Fitness is propulsive, more straight-ahead than either of those– when a song gets out of its cage, it rampages.

Album opener “Road Lizard” is a good example of this: guttural vocal delivery, guitar leads flexing at each other over an insistent beat. It has its own mix of energies, and it always comes as a surprise, that the vocals are as raw sounding as they are. Separated from the rest of the track, they could’ve been from a hardcore band– that’s how much snarl they put on the words. But with the instrumentation’s bouncy energy, it becomes this airy and energetic brand of pop punk.

There’s a difference between good playing and good songwriting. One of them allows a band a spot on bills, it sounds tight live but doesn’t stick with you for the drive home. The latter keeps the songs stamped on a time and place, we grow on them and they grow on us. Fitness has a cool sound, but what they also have is songwriting chops to spare. Puppet Show reminds me of the Dead Bars EP, in that is expresses a sharp and consistent songwriting vision, with defeatist lyrics met with triumphant melody. “Roseanne’s Bar”’s 60s pop chorus starts with the line “Call me a liar, call me pathetic…,” sounding like a Phil Spector penned Nirvana song. These are the types of decisions that make the sort of inward-focused punk that has become popular in the last ten years stick, rather than remaining a competent copy of a copy. The best airings of grievances come with a hook, a recognition in the crowd that as you sing along, there’s a kindred spirit out there, a conversation between artist and audience where the response is: me too.

To sum it all up with a thesis logline: Puppet Show is a great EP from a band poised to do a lot more in the future. They’re exciting, there’s a sense of urgency to their music that’s infectious, enough aggression to sell the venom in the lyrics. Each song is an experience, with busy leads that bounce off each other like billiard balls on break, full throated singalongs begging to be shouted back; songs that come out swinging, gloves in the air and a pep in their step, hungry for connection.

4/5 stars



Album Review: The Flatliners – ‘Inviting Light’

The Flatliners are the definition of resolve and endurance. After making a splash with their ska-infused debut, 2005’s Destroy to Create, they have steadily honed their craft over 5 subsequent albums with their most recent being 2013’s Dead Language (discounting 2015’s B-sides collection Division of Spoils). Through constant touring and their unwavering adherence to a steadfast punk-rock ethos the band have created a solid fanbase that appreciate their dedicated, no-nonsense approach and unrelenting spirit. However a band cannot run on enthusiasm alone. After spending most of their adult lives touring and promoting, the band quickly came to the realization that they needed a break. Some time away to recapture that spark that made them an enduring punk band of the people.

It soon becomes apparent that that time away has been spent polishing the simple craft of writing tight arena ready rockers. Clearly evident on first song, “Mammals” which, after a brooding opening, states its intentions defiantly as it quickly darts to a razor sharp, buzzing chorus. It contains the bright and spiky pop-punk style they are know for but with a distinct edge, reminiscent of mid-period Against Me!. “Hang My Head” sees the band continue to strike that perfect balance between their poppy and caustic sides. The guitars ring rather than churn with the song quickly bounding to a delirious, anthemic chorus. It sounds supremely confident with the sturt and the swagger of a band who have full faith in what they are doing. “Nicotine Lips” sounds like a carry over from Dead Language, featuring energetic distorted power chords and catchy shout-a-long ‘woahs-woahs’. In the context of the album it provides the connective tissue between this and and their previous work. Nevertheless, it is striking how different the overall sound is on Inviting Light from what the band are known for.

The choppier, heavier songs that made up many of 2010’s Cavalcade’s finest moments are largely absent. Instead, the album is characterised by a fuller, broader sound with the focus on songcraft rather than the foot down, pop-punk that saw them draw comparisons with Dead To Me and Anti-Flag. For example, “Indoors,” rather surprisingly, finds them build a song on similar foundations to those of grunge stalwarts Pearl Jam. It’s a mid-tempo rocker assembled with spacious, echoing riffs and hefty 90s power chords before beating down the door to a yearning, powerful chorus. It’s here that frontman, Chris Cresswell, is really able to demonstrate how his voice has developed into a potent and commanding force whilst retaining that slightly bruised, insecure edge. Those Pearl Jam comparisons continue with “Unconditional Love” with the band channeling the Seattle band’s love of slightly more unorthodox and off-beat arrangements. It sees the band challenging their sound a little, showing a previously unheard experimental side. On the whole, these moments provide the triumphant backbone of the album.

Although, these moments do show the band developing their sound, they still fit the mould of mid-paced rockers, aimed squarely at the heart. While effective, at times they are in danger of feeling a little repetitive and formulaic as strummed guitars quickly lead to another big, rousing chorus. Songs such as “Burn Out Again,” “Infinite Wisdom,” and closer “No Roads” all follow a similarly worn blueprint. They lack the vitality of songs from their back catalogue, too often feeling like the safe option. Remarkably, it is the plaintive, tender punk ballad “Chameleon Skin,” which sees the band wholly succeed in finding a new formula. Cresswell’s wistful cries of “I don’t wanna remember who I am” are a stirring addition that will touch the heart of even the most hardened punk.

While Inviting Light is not a seismic shift, there is an obvious progression from their melodic pop-punk sound. It’s still loud and proud but it sees the band enter a more mature phase of their career. The sound is clearer and more accessible than any of their previous work with the abrasive edges polished down. Everything is carefully constructed with each song crafted to highlight the band’s ability to write hungry, anthemic choruses. However, the over reliance on mid-tempo rockers can get a little wearing. All in all Inviting Light is a testament to taking a step back and re-engaging with what you want from your band. It sees the band entering a new phase of their careers whilst ably demonstrating that they are in it for the long haul.

3.5 / 5 Stars



Album Review: We Ride – “Empowering Life”

Since the release of 2012’s On the Edge, Spanish natives, We Ride have established themselves as force to be reckoned with. Their relentless work ethic and resolute determination to conquer the hardcore scene, one blown eardrum at a time, has seen them play with bands such as Madball, Bane and H20. This new album finds the band with the bit firmly between their teeth as they look to spread their brand of forward thinking hardcore to the masses.

Opening song, “Voices”  ignites the taper for what follows as the band slowly piece together the song, allowing the instruments to build before merging into dense wall of powerful, provocative hardcore. That’s even before singer Mimi Telmo throws herself into this cyclone of noise as she caustically spits out her vocals. A lesser vocalist might lack the power to elbow their way to the front but her voice proves to be the perfect guide to lead the band through the raging storm. Opening single, “Self-Made” is a barreling riot of pounding drums, earth fracturing bass and meaty distorted guitar chords.The intro is vaguely reminiscent of Minor Threat’s masterpiece “In My Eyes” before the band take it somewhere else entirely with an inspired, razor sharp, stop start riff. The song is a dynamic and reassured highlight that perfectly illustrates the chemistry between all the members of the band. The song hurtles along before slamming on the brakes for a brutal breakdown that Hatebreed would be proud of. This proves to be no fluke as the crushing breakdown of “Do It All Again” confirms.

“What You Are” features an inspired guest appearance from JJ from Deez Nuts. Here Telmos laments a relationship that has dissolved into apathy, leaving little choice but to move on. “Time Is Now” again demonstrates the band’s profound understanding of dynamics as it  changes tempo from furiously quick to brutally slow. The band clearly know their hardcore with their sound sitting comfortably next to New York hardcore legends Sick Of It All. Like them the sound is ferocious with songs stampeding along whilst retaining a clear understanding of melody. The band write hooks that smack you in the face but then lodge themselves in your brain long after the air has ceased to vibrate.

We Ride are clearly a forward thinking hardcore band. They tip their hats to the greats of the past but they are just as comfortable introducing more contemporary metalcore elements into the mix. For example, “Summer” opens with a sheen of distorted guitar before taking off in a more metalcore direction. “Everyday Matters” has a more spacious opening as the band wind up for another brutal assault. It’s a fundamentally awe-inspiring channeling of rage. One that has clearly been well-honed over years of touring. Lyrically, the songs center around astute calls for self-belief without ever coming across as repetitive or cliche. Even the more political subject matter never comes across as contrived or trite. “Endless Hope’s” pleas for empathy and understanding for those less fortunate works as a powerful and important message for the times we live in.

As an album this is as ferocious and unforgiving as you would hope. It’s full of hostile, barely controlled vitriol but framed around taut hooks and memorable riffs. Front woman, Mimi Telmos, has said in the promotion of this record that she wishes to be seen as a positive figure for females in the hardcore scene. This she has achieved easily. Irrespective of her gender, Telmos is a raw and honest singer leading a band that has crafted a blistering album. What is evident is that there is no schtick or pretence here, just one of the most authentic and impassioned hardcore albums you will hear this year.

4/5 Stars



Album Review: The Bombpops – ‘Fear of Missing Out’

The Fear of Missing Out, or FOMO, is a pseudo-psychological phenomenon that describes the anxiety that one feels when they’re worried about not being present when something big or fun goes down. It’s likely a side effect of the rise of social media and our ability to consistently see and read about every fun thing that we weren’t there to witness. The Fear of Missing Out is also the title of The Bombpops’ newest collection of songs.

The latest band to make the jump from Red Scare to Fat, The Bombpops are armed with sunny hooks and sugary choruses, going all out on their first album for the label, which also happens to be their long-awaited debut full length album. The final result is a short and sweet, tightly crafted Orange County pop punk record.

Most of the album hits all the right notes you want to hear from Californian pop punk: catchy choruses, harmonized vocals, lyrics about enjoying the weather, it’s all here. First single, “CA. in July” epitomizes a lot of what people expect to hear from a punk band out of Southern California. That’s not to say that it’s all Green Day worship here: “Sweet for Sorrow” with its melody and vocal harmonies is reminiscent of Bad Religion, if Bad Religion played pop punk. “Jerk” takes a Weezer-ian approach; the verses have a heavy, kind of grungy sound while it’s chorus is straight up pop, and “I Can’t” is a thrashy in-your-face hardcore number that lasts all of 54 seconds. The Bombpops might not be the first pop punk band to show range and combine outside influences with their sound, but they do it in such a charming way and they easily join the ranks of the bands that did it before them.

Fear of Missing Out was released in February 2017, and astute readers may notice that this review has come a few months after then. One might even think that I, the reviewer, missed out on this record when it first came out and I’m only playing catch up now. “FOMO” might be a real thing that people feel, but fortunately when it comes to recorded music you can always go back and hit “repeat” as many times as you need. There’s no missing out here.

4 / 5

RIYL: Bad Cop/Bad Cop, Teenage Bottlerocket, Lipstick Homicide



Album Review: Traits – “Limits”

Limits” is the debut EP from Yorshire, England’s Traits. They may have only formed last year, but there’s some serious pedigree on show – the band formed following the hiatus of long-touring ska-punks Random Hand and during a dormant period for melodic hardcore quartet The Human Project.

The five tracks on offer here are a side-step from the output of either of those two bands – seemingly straight up pop punk, but not as easy to pigeon-hole as you would at first expect. There are So-Cal elements on parts of the EP; “Nobody Likes A Narcissist” is more early period Lagwagon than anything else. The straight up “We’re All A Dick Sometimes” may sound like a falsetto Ataris, but juxtaposed with that is an equally strong nod to 90’s UK rock – and, in particular, local muses Terrorvision.

The feeling from the EP is Traits have chosen the ‘carefully deployed simplicity’ approach. Fourth track “Fed to Me” demonstrates this best; almost sounding like the slower output from Ten Foot Pole, no lead and minimal backing vocals leave you humming the melodies underneath yourself. The result is a synoptic record that could have come out any time in the last 20 years. The difference is – records that sound like this don’t come around too often. If you like you pop sensibilities, you can’t go wrong with this. A really promising debut.

4/5
“Limits” is out digitally in the usual places now.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.5 / 5



Album Review: Western Addiction – “Tremulous”

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

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

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

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

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

5/5



Album Review: Dead Bars – “Dream Gig”

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

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

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

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

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

5/5



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

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

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

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

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

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

4.5/5



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5/5 Stars