Search Results for "Album Review"

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

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

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

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

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

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


Album Review: Chixdiggit – “2012”

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

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

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

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

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

4/5 Stars

Album Review: Stonethrower – “Swells/Repels”

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

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

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

4/5 Stars

Album Review: Blink 182 – “California”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/5 Stars

Album Review: Davey Dynamite and Friends – “Holy Shit”

Holy Shit

It works in italics, and it works in quotations. Davey Dynamite did half the work for me when he named his latest album. We get a lot of emails at Dying Scene; small-time bands, big-time bands, and everything in between. It’s a privilege to have so many voices from across the world send you their art, it means the world to us, but it also means we get saturated sometimes. But, when we get something like Holy Shit, it makes it more than just a part of the punk-press machine. We get sent a lot of record. We get sent a lot of records we like. But Holy Shit is the kind of record we love.

Davey Dynamite has crafted an absolutely explosive record. More than anything, it feels punk rock in a time when punk rock has come to mean so many things it can be hard to put your finger on. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is ‘77 throwback stuff, but it does have an unmistakable edge, an unbridled scrappiness that makes me think, in 2016: this is punk rock. The lyrics on Holy Shit are centered around politics and social commentary, and the things he does really well that makes these common themes transcend is frame them in anecdotes as it suits him, like in “Mowing At Grandma’s.” Other times, he’s content to scream proclamations in rousing crescendos, such as in “Rock and Roll,” where he boils down the DIY spirit in five words: “Let’s make this fucking matter!”

The sound on Holy Shit is the progeny of old folk punk gone electric bands like Against Me! as well as the throat-shredding punk rock of O Pioneers! If you listen closely, you can hear the folk punk skeletons, but they’ve been layered with electric muscle and tak-tak-tak drum beats that make these protest songs sound down right muscular. It’s the sheer energy of the musicianship that elevates the lyricism into something screamable, something that isn’t just a bought and sold commodity to listen to on a bus ride, but something you can believe in.

There’s a moment on “Man Enough*,” where Davey Dynamite attacks homophobia and bro-culture without ever denying his own involvement in propagating it in subtle ways, he brings it down with just chords and says, “I’ve been coward, but I can sing. Every time a kid uses a synonym of gay, a barrel of a gun gets closer to a brain.” It’s a call to arms for personal action, of looking at the way our words matter, of looking outside our own personal perspective. It’s a chilling moment, delivered earnestly.

Ultimately, what separates Holy Shit from the pack is its youthfulness. It’s packed with all the convictions we have when we’re young, and they’re held so tight to the chest, a big middle finger to the world and a “fuck off” on the lips. It’s us, before we made compromises.

5/5 Stars

Stream the entire album below and download it for free on bandcamp.

Album Review: The Fake Boys – I Love My Life When You’re Around

I Love My Life When You’re Around is the latest album by The Fake Boys. One thing that the album did was perpetually surprise me, every time you think you know what is happening there is a change. There seems to have been a deliberate attempt to infuse more psychedelic approaches and effects into the traditional punk elements in the music. The vocal style also changes often. When I listened to the album my eye-brows were raised at some point during just about every song; something interesting, out there or ambitious lurks around every corner. Whether the band capitalises on these intriguing moments is a matter of opinion.

Read my opinion below

Album Review: Out of System Transfer – “Junkyard Golem”

Listening to an MP3 of Out of System Transfer’s newest record Junkyard Golem has to be somewhat like trying to hook a rotary dial phone up to a wireless router, it’s just not compatible. Frontman Jesse Sternberg really was born about 80 years too late for his favored musical aesthetic. His voice is one meant for tin can microphones, the sides of dusty roads, old-timey dance halls, not be crudely emanating from a smartphone music app.

That being said, purchase the MP3 so hopefully, the band can make a vinyl happen.

The record is a raise of the fist for protest punk and an easily moshible Hodge podge of folk-punk influences. At times it’s easy to hear Out Of System Transfer;s affinity for Ghost Mice and at other times if you listen closely enough you can hear Pat The Bunny shining through. But all throughout the 15-track album Sternberg;s passion for traditional folk tunes holds it all together.

While a lot of the more notable folk punk acts are starting to lean a little more punk and a little less folk Out of System Transfer is making a hard move in the opposite direction. Their sound is grounded in an era of folk punkery that didn’t include an electric guitar. Of course there are plenty of oogles nationwide driving around in broke down vans and strumming on their washtub bases but not many of them are bringing the level of talent to their songwriting that OOST are.

The record is so much more than a folky fuck you to “the man.” It’s a piece of art orchestrated by a musician with an ear for the dulcet tones of folk and heart based steadfastly in punk. Their folk cover of C.R.A.S.S;s “Well, Do they” is one of the strongest tunes on the record and by no fault of Sternberg’s songwriting. It’s just that the group quite obviously jelled around a classic punk tune that relied more on their attitude of play than individual talent.

I have been fond of saying “folk is thTransfer may exhibit that better than most.

Often times the songs themselves are about struggle and sorrow but that doesn’t mean they can’t sound great, make you happy, and be totally danceable. Junkyard Golem is barnstormer of a record just like the band that released it and it’s honestly quite hard to believe that music like that is still being made in a huge modern city like New York. But following the folksteps of artists like Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie, Out Of System Transfer is putting the tales of woe in the North East to music commonly associated with the South West.

So often in folk-punk the talent is put in the backseat in favor of raw emotion, it’s refreshing to see an act putting out quality songs while still maintaining a real sense of authenticity with the genre.

3.5/5 Stars 

Album Review: Deadaires – “Deadaires”

You see it often. A band member leaves in amicable or acrimonious circumstances and just like that they’re gone. A half remembered face on an album inner sleeve and a passing mention on their Wikipedia page, as the band rumbles on without them. For the departing band member it can be an opportunity to pursue other projects but it can also be a total leap of faith. One that can result in a musician left to fill the void of playing music and touring the world. This is the situation that Andrew Seward found himself in. After 12 years as bassist for Against Me!, Seward relocated to Florida with no grand plan or aspirations. However, the urge to play and create music kept bubbling to the surface. Fortunately, he soon found 2 like-minded musical brothers in Ryan Murphy and Jeremy Rogers. Together, they rediscovered the alchemy of musicians who fully understand each other and, during lunch breaks and on weekends, the 3 of them wrote and recorded the music that forms this, their self-titled debut album. The result is a collection of gritty, post-punk songs that sees the band members successfully strike out anew and forge their own clear identity.

Although there is no one particular theme that binds the whole thing together, the album works as a singular piece that ebbs and flows. “Start The Rotors” provides a suitably moody and atmospheric opening as a the sound of a talking clock is layered over oscillating synths. It gently builds until the solid and unhurried beat of “Constance Demario” kicks in. It’s a mid tempo number that recalls heart-on-their-sleeve rockers The Hold Steady.  It has a similar barely held together, ramshackle feel with frontman Ryan Murphy’s vocals bearing more than a passing resemblance to Craig Finn. It’s a brave opening as it teases you into the album rather than wrenching you through the door. That comes with the post-punk strut of “New York Was A Bad Idea”. Built on a hip-shaking groove, it highlights the band’s chemistry with each member playing to the other’s strengths. It’s supremely confident and would have fit perfectly on Coliseum’s more post-punk “Anxiety’s Kiss” album.  “Poor You Poor Me” is another rowdy, knockabout punk song that sounds like a band with fire in their bellies.

The band gives the listener a chance to pause for breath on the sparse “Hideout”. It’s a world weary, atmospheric piece with some epic bass work reminiscent of Paul Simonon from The Clash. This is not the work of a youthful, naive band. This is the work of an experienced group of musicians who trust their instincts as musicians. “Exit Polls” is a more upbeat, punk number reminiscent of The Bouncing Souls at their most raucous. The band are confident enough in what they’re doing to balance the up-tempo numbers with slower, moodier pieces such as “Time Ain’t”, “Rosemary” and “Boom Boom”. These songs aren’t reliant on huge riffs, but find the band slowly building atmosphere with more restrained playing; expertly using the space between the notes. The effect is that when the song does take off, it soars as on the epic outro to “Rosemary”.

Lyrically, this is, at times, a dark album but not suffocatingly so. Murphy comes across as an experienced yet often apathetic frontman. There are occasions where he alludes to much more serious issues such as on lines like “Always push my demons down” on the slow burning “Boom Boom”. Nevertheless, the tone steers clear of melancholy, with Murphy able to strike a balance between the darker subject matter and more sardonic and wittier lyrics. Lines such as “I want to be your best friend” and the closing “Tell me one more time how hard you work”, on “Poor You, Poor Me” drip with sarcasm. It’s a clear sign that these are the words of an experienced musician with plenty to say.

Through finding each other the 3 members of Deadaires have discovered a rare musical connection allowing them to create a purposeful, meaningful album. In many respects the album acts as a cathartic experience for the band as it sees each member finding a place to express themselves. On the whole, the band has been successful in what they set out to do. They don’t  try to be anything other than 3 guys playing for the love of music. It just goes to show that leaving a successful band can just be the beginning.

4/5 Stars

EP Review: Black Bolt – “Comfort of the Grave”

Black Bolt’s five-song EP, Comfort of the Grave, is the latest release from everyone’s favorite Boise punk act, self-described as “a loose conglomeration of nerds and jerks playing three to five chords, sometimes successfully.” Also from their Facebook page: “Black Bolt subverts the contemporary music system by playing amateurishly in a fashion that is best compared to puking in the alleys behind Mulligans (local Boise bar) after 3 AMFS.” However, there’s nothing amateur about this recording. The production is solid (Andy Agenbroad at the Chop Shop) and the performances are tight.

The first thing one notices with Comfort of the Grave is that Black Bolt writes really cool song titles, like “Doctor Destruction” and “Smokin’ it to the Bird”. Download it through and you’ll hear melodic punk tunes at Ramones-esque tempos and harmonic progressions accompanied by old school vocals reminiscent of – but with influences that stem far earlier than – The Briggs and early Rancid.

Really, after a simple listening to the songs, the band comes across far more serious than their song titles and self-degrading description would imply. “Straight to the Biscuits” is about battling alcoholism during his grandfather’s funeral, while several other songs touch on drug abuse

The fifth and final track, “Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Hashtags”, at first glance appears to be a parody, though the lyrics are just as damning of U.S. foreign and domestic policy as the classic Propaghandi album and title track, Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes. “Sanitizing land across the sea,” scream the vocals as the EP comes to a close. “Whittle down the earth until it’s flat. Mutating some perverse immunity. Whitewash everything until it’s black.” Heavy stuff.

Overall this is a solid effort from the Idaho quartet. Check it out. It’s free, so there’s no reason not to.

3.5/5 Stars

Album Review: Joey Cape – “One Week Record”

One would be hard-pressed to find another singer-songwriter as prolific as Joey Cape. Already under his belt are eight Lagwagon albums, three Bad Astronaut albums, LPs by The Playing Favorites, Scorpios, and Joey Cape’s Bad Loud, not to mention his role in a whole bunch of Me First and the Gimme Gimmes releases, as well as countless seven-inch and compilation appearances.

And here’s another. Joey Cape’s One Week Record, on his own label, One Week Records, kicks off the same way Lagwagon kicked off Hang, with the one-minute acoustic “Burden of Proof” introducing “Reign”. The two albums begin similarly enough that at the conclusion of “Burden” the listener isn’t positive which album he’s listening to until it either takes off at blistering speeds, as with Hang, or, as is the case here, continues as if performed by a guy on a street corner wearing a “Joey Cape is Bullshit” t-shirt with his guitar case opened to invite coins.

The idea of One Week Records is to produce ten songs in seven days, all within the comfort of Cape’s home. The limited schedule is designed to eliminate the temptation to overproduce and let the songs “give an honest representation of the artist’s creativity.” Membership to One Week Records is available, making it feel more like a club than a typical record label. Cape had previously recorded five songs, available as a bonus only to those with membership to the label. He has since expanded his five-song One Weekend Record to a full ten-song album. Because it is his label, his studio, and his house, one can’t help assuming Joey cheated a little and spent more than seven days recording it – evidenced by guest appearances by One Week artists Walt Hamburger, Yotam Ben Horin, Brian Wahlstrom, and Laura Mardone, all of whom have recorded albums with Cape – but when you’re the owner, you can do what you want.

Without liner notes accompanying the digital download it’s difficult to know for sure who is doing what, though sometimes it’s obvious: that’s Laura Mardone’s sweet voice lending some interest to an otherwise boring arrangement of Lagwagon’s post-hiatus favorite “E Dagger.” Brian Wahlstrom, Cape’s Scorpios bandmate and frequent guest keyboardist on punk albums, is heard tinkling the ivories on nearly every track, most prominently in “Laymens Terms”, what with his instrumental introduction and, later in the same track, some pretty nifty harmonies. Too, Joey opts to leave the guitar out entirely during the first minute-plus of “Sick” with only Wahlstrom’s keys accompanying his voice until the downbeat of the first chorus.

We may still call him “Joey”, but Joey Cape is getting old – he just turned 50, for crying out loud! Needless to say, he’s not singing about girls too often these days. Instead, his friends are dying. “Days of New” is a tribute to Bad Astronaut and original Lagwagon drummer Derrick Plourde, and “One Last Song” features a shout out to Cape’s best bud, the late great Tony Sly. Joey clearly misses them both dearly, but, rather than somber funereal ballads, both tunes are upbeat to better convey celebrations of their lives, and their impact on Cape’s own.

No new songs here, this is an album of Cape-fronted band covers: one Bad Astronaut song (opener from Twelve Small Steps, 2006) and another from Joey’s least talked about side project, the Playing Favorites (“Waiting”, from I Remember When I was Pretty, 2007). The remaining eight were all originally Lagwagon songs, including three from Lagwagon’s latest full-length, Hang. “Obsolete Absolute” is a rare example of a fast punk song being longer in duration than its slow acoustic version, and is one of the strongest tracks on each album. Cape softly plucks the strings of his acoustic guitar, outlining the opening chords, providing the impression that the guitar is in the background even as the only sound present, before his voice presents the opening melody. A piano is added halfway through the first verse, and then light gang vocals and vocal harmonies to embellish the chorus. Fan-tastic.

These One Week and One Weekend records are digital releases, though PEARS’ Zach Quinn’s One Week Record was given a limited vinyl pressing through Fat Wreck Chords, so perhaps something similar will happen with Cape’s album.

Find another example of a songwriter providing so many alternate versions to previously recorded songs; not live recordings from acoustic sets, but – between two split albums with Tony Sly, a split album with Jon Snodgrass, six songs between Cape’s first two solo albums, Bridge and Doesn’t Play Well With Others, as well as numerous standalone tracks scattered here and there – actual studio recordings. I can’t think of anyone, at least not in the punk world, the only sect of pop music I feel qualified to discuss. Any punk fan ought to appreciate what Joey Cape has brought to the genre, and most would enjoy this album. Joey Cape’s One Week Record is not as polished as the splits with Tony Sly, nor do I think is it as strong. For a Lagwagon fan, however, it’s a must-have.

4/5 Stars

Album Review: Danvers – “Jazz Standards”

Danvers is one of the best up and coming acts in recent years when it comes to purveyors of power pop. Although they’ve had a constantly evolving sound, the level of all around quality and blue collar work ethic has always been there. But despite that, they also rank near the top of most underrated punk bands for some reason. Since early 2013, these Steel City boys have experimented and fine tuned their style and after almost four years seem to have locked in a signature sound with their newest offering and debut full length, Jazz Standards, which follows two prior EPs Gallant and Gallant, Side C. The growth from album to album is palpable, with this latest release showing the most marked improvement. I’m not talking minor improvements either, there are massive leaps in quality, that you can pinpoint as you listen through their catalog. The general  theme of this album may be about coming to terms with the realities of adulthood and losing friends as lives and priorities change but the theme for this review’s sake will be ‘Variety’. Every song is divergent from the last, never getting served the same meal twice which is, unfortunately, a rare trait in most, modern pop acts. If you have yet to give this quintet a listen, Jazz Standards is a great jumping off point. Check out the full review below!

EP Review: Splitfist – “Straight Outta Halton”

Ontario easycore punks Splitfist, burst onto the scene with their seven track, debut EP, Straight Outta Halton via heavyweight punk label We Are Triumphant Records in August of 2015 (has it been over a year already?). While flying under the radar a bit in a year that saw a slew of stellar releases from more tenured bands, they still managed to garner recognition among pop punk fans. One of the factors that set them apart from their peers with this freshman offering was the songwriting. Embedding it’s roots in the pop soil while being something wholly different itself, the writing is aggressive and thoughtful, far less cheesy than a lot of others in their category. Couple that unique attribute with evocative, gritty vocals and intricate music composition and  it’s easy to see why these young canucks stand out from the rest of the pop pack. Check out the full review of this incredible inaugural EP below!

Album Review: Green Day – ‘Revolution Radio’

Get your pitchforks ready and hold on to your butts; Green Day, the least-punk punk band, are back with a new album.

Revolution Radio, the band’s twelfth studio album, is an album that is, whether intentionally or not, all about scaling back. This means that the excessive theatricality of 21st Century Breakdown and the overly eager ambition of ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tre! have been toned down into manageable pieces. Hell, the band even scaled back their lineup, with fourth member Jason White returning to touring member status. On paper (or on your screen, I guess), Revolution Radio sounds like the back-to-basics album that Green Day fans have been waiting for, which is a good thing, right? Unfortunately, the answer is a great, resounding “eh.”

For what it’s worth, Green Day does an admirable job for the most part, it just doesn’t all stick. The second half is chock-full of power pop jams (“Bouncing Off the Walls” and “Youngblood” are fun and stupid- just what you want from a Californian band, and “Still Breathing” is the best mid-2000’s pop punk ballad that Good Charlotte wish they had written), but the album also contains the mostly forgettable “Trouble Times” and the snoozer “Outlaws”. Much like the trilogy, this album is consistent in its inconsistency, but at a third of the total runtime, this one is much easier to digest.

Revolution Radio is bookended (and dog-eared mid-way through) by tracks that tackle growing old and not really knowing how to rage against time, making it a much more prevalent theme than the supposed inspiration of the album. In the process of dealing with his age, Armstrong drops lines like “I put the “riot” in Patriot” and “I shop online so that I can vote at the speed of light,” haphazardly crossing the line between stupid and clever to the point where you’re not really sure which side of the line is which. It’s a little more clear in the grand finale, as it were, when he delivers his classic apathy: “Oh I want to start a revolution. I want to hear it on my radio. I’ll put it off another day.”

The real lyrical disappointment here is the album’s title track- a song allegedly inspired by Armstrong joining a Black Lives Matters protest in NYC, though you wouldn’t know it by listening to the lyrics. It’s wonderful to see mainstream artists use their celebrity platform to inform their audiences, but rather than use any sort of reference or incident to BLM, “Revolution Radio” becomes more or less an Anti-Flag song- a call to arms with lots of slogans but very little else. On the other hand, the follow up track, “Say Goodbye,” makes direct references to Flint, MI (“teach our children well, from the bottom of the well”) and Ferguson, MO (“The city of damage control, this is how we… roll”), and is everything that the title track should be. On a similarly dark note, lead single “Bang Bang” is a satirical look at how American media turns mass shooters into celebrities from the point of view of someone who wants to participate in murder for their 15 minutes. It’s fucked up- but it’s also one of Armstrong’s best song topics in years (and a bit reminiscent of The Offspring’s “Hammerhead”).

Revolution Radio might not be the album to relaunch the band back into American Idiot-levels of success like it has been promoted as, but there’s nothing particularly offensive either and it’s still worth a listen or two for the morbidly curious. In short, Green Day made a Green Day record.

3.5 / 5 Stars

RIYL: The Who, Elvis Costello, The Offspring

P.S. The album also ends with a song titled “Ordinary World,” which you might recognize as the title of the movie that stars Billie Joe Armstrong as an aging punk rocker who never made it big. It’s a short, acoustic ditty and adds nothing to the record. It feels like it was tacked on at the end with no real purpose other than to promote the movie, much like how this final paragraph was tacked on to the end of this review with no real purpose other than to say “hey, this song exists.”

Album Review: Jeff Rosenstock- WORRY.

The question that always comes to mind when I hear a new Jeff Rosenstock record is, “How does he come up with all of these wonderful melodies?” Time and time again, the man delivers the catchy goods like no other can. When Vacation was released, I thought it was a beautiful, beautiful fluke. Then I Look Like Shit came along, then We Cool?, and now we have WORRY.— the next logical step in Jeff Rosenstock’s game of chicken with an apparently infinite creative well.

WORRY. is an album that’ll get accolades. We can get that out of the way early. It’s a damn good record. It succeeds in ambition and scope as a sort of left hook when we were all expecting another album of songs about having trouble growing up (although there’s still a little bit of that). The record sprawls in a way that it almost begs us to talk about the structure over the music. It begins in earnest as a typical album, before shifting gears in the latter half to a musical suite.

The songs, however, are a definite return to form of a form I nearly forgot. So much of Jeff’s solo career has been laser focused on himself, Bomb the Music Industry’s political and anti-corporate philosophy almost feel like the tenets of a different person. That’s not to say they were ever abandoned, but the artist can only be known through their art. On WORRY., Rosenstock spits venom. It’s as if it was decided, early in the writing stage of this record, that punk rock was the definite aim. Songs like “Festival Song,” probably one of the best on the record takes umbrage with punk rock becoming a commoditized entity, through fashion and large-scale festivals. Lines like, “this is not a movement, it’s just careful entertainment for an easy demographic in our sweatshop denim jackets,” are just one of the many piercing lyrics that can make us reevaluate the Venn diagram where punk rock and complacency overlap. And ultimately, I think that’s what Rosenstock is primarily trying to do with a song like this. He’s shaking us by the collar and saying, “If we want punk rock to mean something to us we gotta take it from the people who want it to mean money.”

Just how pointed the lyrics are, across the entirety WORRY., is almost a little daunting. I could pick out caustic couplets from any number of the songs on this album, and that’s why it feels so damn punk. This is an angry album. Rosenstock is pissed about classism, slumlords, and how consumer focused society has become. There’s a lot of stuff going on here, and its never delivered in a less than convincing way. Never lapsing into conspiracy theory and self-congratulations, it instead, comes off as sarcastic and a little sad. And maybe that’s why its all the more effective. On “To Be a Ghost…” Rosenstock sings, “Born as a data mine for targeted marketing and no one will listen up until you become a hashtag or a meme.” When I heard that line, I didn’t care about political cabals and dynasties; the depressing truth is the one we opt in to ourselves, every day.

Where WORRY. falters slightly is in one of the same areas it succeeds magnificently. This is without the doubt the most Bomb the Music Industry! record Rosenstock has made since going solo. Bomb is my favorite band, without a doubt, but they weren’t ever faultless. Sharing the politics and ambition of BTMI! also opens WORRY. to some of the same hangups. What’s strange about this record is that it is both cohesive and woefully not. The first half is made up of traditional songs, the type you wouldn’t be surprised to see on any other Jeff album, and then the albums switches up at about the halfway point and offers this amazing suite of short songs (featuring ska, hardcore, and the shout along refrain, “we don’t wanna live inside a hellhole!”). It’s a great album, but at times it feels like two.

I wasn’t sure where WORRY. was going to end up in my personal ranking of Jeff Rosenstock related albums. Maybe, I’m still not sure. The fact remains, that this is a big album of big ideas delivered as viciously as they are catchily. What small faults I can find with the album are the result of the best of intentions. This is an album of chaotic creativity and unbridled talent, less about what punk rock is than what it could be at its best.


Album Review: NOFX – “First Ditch Effort”

Everyone has their own unique story of the first time they heard NOFX. For me, I heard “Dinosaurs will Die” on at age 12. At first I didn’t quite get it, but it grew on me and a few months later I picked up War on Errorism at Fred Meyer of all places (this was sort of toward the middle-end of the ‘punk rock is commercially successful’ phase we witnessed in the mid-00’s [see: Vans Warped Tour]). WOE is probably in my top 10 or 15 favorite records of all time now, and over the years the band has continued to put out stand out material. So when I heard that Fat Mike (of all people) was going sober, I was curious how it would affect their music. I don’t do drugs, I don’t care about drugs, I drink way less than all of my friends – but it seemed like such a big part of their music and his personality that it couldn’t go unnoticed in the music, right?

Well, turns out that he wasn’t sober during the making of the album, but completed 85 days of sobriety around that time. Also, he’s doing the whole “moderation” thing nowadays. So with that said, a lot of the songs on the album deal with sobriety, but they also touch on other dark corners of Mike’s life. Of course musically NOFX is still NOFX. They still have their trademark mix of slop and pop and while some might worry that they’re “maturing”, don’t fear! The subject matter is more honest, but they’re still written like you would expect NOFX to write them. It’s still counter culture, still challenging, and still a punk rock album.

First Ditch Effort has some of the best songs NOFX have ever written, in my opinion. It’s notably catchy but also aggressive when it needs to be, keeping you on your toes most of the way through. “6 Years on Dope” is one of their most aggressive opening songs since “It’s My Job to Keep Punk Rock Elite.” Melvin’s yell on that song is better than ever (even better than on “The Separation of Church and Skate”, which is possibly my favorite NOFX song of all time) and is a clever ode to the drug abusing life Fat Mike (and his fellow band members) lived prior to this release. “Happy Father’s Day” begins with a sweet “Sadie”-esque riff, and quickly hits the 90’s skate punk territory that NOFX is so famous (or infamous) for. “Sid and Nancy” is a great piece in which Fat Mike theorizes about Nancy Spungen killing Sid Vicous instead of the other way around, similar to a Courtney Love-Kurt Cobain conspiracy theory. The first seven songs on the album are particularly catchy actually, whether it’s the NUFAN-ish “I Don’t Like Me Anymore” or “I’m a Transvest-lite”, which is a confessional tune about Fat Mike’s cross dressing that reminds me a lot of “Quart in Session.” I don’t have much to say about “I’m So Sorry Tony,” besides that they nailed the NUFAN-ish chord progression and the ending sound clip made me really sad.

Of course NOFX has always been known for their puns – is there a punnier band in punk rock? This usually works well for them, but they may have overdone it on “Oxy Moron”.

My three least favorite songs on the album were “Ditch Effort”, “Dead Beat Mom“, and “Generation Z”. “Ditch Effort” and “Dead Beat Mom” aren’t bad, they just didn’t really resonate with me. And as much as I really wanted  to like “Generation Z”, the spoken word ending just came off as a little overly cheesy for me.

All in all First Ditch Effort is definitely a stand out record, but what else would you expect from Mike, Smelly, Melvin, and Hefe. Well done guys, and hooray for punk rock in 2016!

4/5 Stars