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

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

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

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

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

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

3 / 5 Stars

You can stream Back in the Jazz Coffin below.

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/5



EP Review: No Trigger – “Adult Braces”

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

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

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

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

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

4/5 Stars



Album Review: Ezra – “Speakers in the Sky”

Ezra Kire is known from his early days in the New York crack rocksteady scene, writing songs and providing a voice that helped make the genre become a veritable revisioning of punk. In bands like Leftover Crack and Morning Glory he combined crust, black metal, and ska with pop hooks, and in that he did something admirable– he helped create a new sort of punk rock that was both tough and catchy– something a new generation of misfits could worship and look to for guidance. As heavy as a sledgehammer, and about as subtle.

And then, in a fit of further revisioning, Kire started to separate himself from the scene he helped create and released new music with his old crack rocksteady band Morning Glory. But, the new M-Glory wasn’t the same as the old, it was defiantly Kire in every way. He found himself playing with the boundaries of punk, introducing piano and strings that backed loud and heavy anthems.

Now, there’s a new release, and again, a revision. Or maybe, just an update. Kire hasn’t stopped making music, and on Speakers in the Sky, it seems like maybe he can’t stop. He bleeds music and with a new record comes a new hemorrhage. Kire is an artist, the kind of human machine that can’t and won’t stop sublimating his experience. He was made with his purpose, and as a final act of removing outer-processes, he has left the Morning Glory moniker behind him, along with his last name. This new album, Speakers in the Sky, is credited to only Ezra.

And that’s fitting, because with the stripped down name comes stripped down music. This is largely a piano album, while the later tracks do bring in some of the Morning Glory bombast, it doesn’t aim to be punk by any means. “Everything is Wardsback” provides the baseline for what to expect from Speakers in the Sky— Billy Joel piano ballads sung with the desperate edge of a singer who wasn’t built to sing, but was born to nonetheless. “Civilian Song” continues in this direction and then “Love the World We Have” brings in a guitar crescendo that reminds us that the old Ezra is a long way from dead.

“Soldier On” is one of the best songs on the album, with a sticky refrain and harmonies that elevate it into something hopeful and ethereal. It is then effortlessly transformed as it continues into the title track. Here, we hear Ezra’s punk snarl, backed by messy electric guitars and sirens. It acts as a separate entity as well as a continuation of “Soldier On,” allowing the ballad to burn and become an anthem.

The album ends with the contemplative “Corpse’s Lullaby,” whose chorus of “Tell me!” sung by a choir of Ezras is one of the album’s biggest hooks. It’s lyrics call back to John Lennon’s “Imagine,” but as one would expect, it’s tougher and darker than what even the bleakest Beatle could conjure.

Speakers in the Sky is interesting because of Ezra, and an argument could be made that it’s engagement level will depend on what you think of the man himself. For a devotee who has followed his work, this new collection of ballads may be mesmerizing, but for the casual punk, they could come off as equally limp. Either way, there is no denying the talent, nor the perseverance of the artist, and when it comes to punk, that’s over half the battle.

 

3.5/5



Album review: Broken Bottles, Broken Bones by The Ratz

If you put a few musicians into a room together, it’s almost guaranteed that they’re going to start playing together.  Sometimes that just amounts to late nights, too much booze and some crappy Avail covers around a campfire, but sometimes everything clicks and a new band surfaces from behind the empty PBR cans.

That’s the case with New Haven, Connecticut’s The Ratz, a pure punk rock effort that started with three friends having fun, and ended with Broken Bottles, Broken Bones, a 10-track album that was released this year on Die Hipster! Records.  Keep reading below to read more and stream the album.



Album Review: Melvins – “A Walk with Love and Death”

Preconceived notions are a funny thing. Let’s take the new Melvins record A Walk with Love and Death as a case study. When I saw that the Melvins had a new record, I took notice. My first encounter with the band was back in 1992 when Spin Magazine did an article on Grunge. I think they described the Melvins as “so heavy they solidify upon contact with air.” I was like, “I gotta check that out.” On vacation at the time in LA, I popped into a record store and proceeded to buy the only Melvins offering they had. 10 Songs. It rocked my world. I considered myself a fan ever since. I’ve seen them many times. I attended their performance of Houdini in its entirety solo as I couldn’t scare up anyone to go with me. I know the Melvins. Bullhead, Stoner Witch, Houdini, Ozma, Stag, Nude with Boots, (A) Senile Animal. I’ll tell anyone that asks, that for my money, the best rock and roll song ever written is Revolve. They continue to provide for those that prefer their punk rock with a heavy side of sludge. The last album of theirs that I had on heavy rotation was Hold it in. I mean come on!! How can you not embrace the product of ½ Melvins, ½ Butthole Surfers? It’s a whole mess of fun. So when I took a look at this new offering, A Walk with Love and Death, a few things came to mind. The cover art looked really cool, definitely a good start, it looked like Melvins for the 21st century. Next I checked the track listing. Interesting. Nine songs apparently inspired by (Death) and fourteen songs apparently inspired by (Love). Got it; A walk with Love and Death. The Melvins are taking a deep dive here into two broad and timeless concepts!! My mind: “ I like it!! The Death songs are going to be some of the heaviest gnarliest shit they’ve ever done. And the love stuff, maybe they’ll pull out something heartfelt, lilting, Buzz can make a guitar groan, chirp, and squeal, I want to know what Love sounds like through that goop filter. I can’t wait to hear it!! It will be the Melvins’ Magnum Opus!!”

Preconceived notions.

My hope that there was a beautiful symbiosis between Love and Death with the common denominator being The Melvins went up in flames on my very first listen. I was right about the fact that AWWLAD has two distinct sections; and they must be viewed as such; which will not be hard. Let’s tackle Death first. For all practical purposes, Death is the Melvins album. Death consists of 9 tracks, traditional offerings put forth as faithfully Melvins. Song one, Black Heath, proves an able opener; although I didn’t catch anything that suggested (Death). Sober-delic picks up where BH leaves off, looming soundscapes, extended noodlings, what you expect from the Melvins these days. SD pays off with a solid hook you can latch on to, and a vocal style that might remind die-hards of Stoner Witch or Houdini. For my money, this is the standout track on the album. Euthanasia slams the listener next and once again, the Melvins Faithful are rewarded with power chords, tribal beats, and a traditional Buzz vocal. What’s Wrong with You slams on the breaks and timewarps into 90s pop. Anna Waronker drops in to assist on vox. You might know her as the lead singer of that Dog, or as Steven McDonald’s (Melvins current bassist) wife. Edgar the Elephant and Flaming Creature rumble in next to little fanfare. Christ Hammer delivers some 70s harmonies and a cleaner crisper production that allows the Melvins to shine in a new light. Cactus Party is a jumpy little number featuring Teri Gender Bender of Le Butcherettes. Cardboa Negro closes things out with a classic Melvins vibe that devolves into cacophony; a harbinger of what’s to come.

The love side. Full disclosure. This is the soundtrack for a movie by Jesse Niemenen called, oddly enough, “A Walk with Love and Death.” But don’t expect The Wall or The Soft Bulletin. There should be some kind of reward for anyone that listens to the entirety of Love without turning it off. Something I was close to doing many times, but I kept waiting for some smidgen of a song or anything indicating that the Melvins were involved in any way. There were few. I wanted to give a fair and unbiased account of the entire album, so it is for you, faithful reader, that I subjected myself to the maddening cacophony that is Love. The only way it would merit a second listen is if you are a masochist or a heavy drug user.

To sum it all up, if you stick with the (Death) tracks you have a solid Melvins record. No need to mess with the (Love) section. I give (Death) 3.5 stars. The inclusion of (Love) drags the overall rating down to 3. Draw your own philosophical conclusion.

3/5 Stars



Album Review: Teenage Bottlerocket – “Stealing the Covers”

Back in March, the punk world was all atwitter with the news that everyone’s favorite Ramones-influenced unpretentious popular indie punk band from Wyoming was back in the studio. Then, when Teenage Bottlerocket announced a couple of weeks later that the new album would not contain any new original music but would instead be a cover album, Facebook was littered with disappointment.

Apparently the idea behind Stealing the Covers had been kicked around by the band for at least 10 years and it may even have been late drummer Brandon Carlisle’s idea (reports vary). If that’s the case, then the fact that the first full-length Teenage Bottlerocket album recorded in Brandon’s wake is filled with covers of obscure songs by unknown bands, makes this album an entirely appropriate tribute to co-frontman Ray’s fallen twin.

A drummer change in the lineup can potentially change a band’s sound more than any other position excepting the singer (see blink-182’s transition from Scott to Travis and the Bouncing Souls’ Shal to Michael). But then album opener “The Way I Know” functions similarly to previous album openers “Freak Out” and “In My Head” – no instrumental introductions found here. And that’s the remarkable things about Stealing the Covers: for an album of cover songs with a brand new drummer it really does sound just like another Teenage Bottlerocket album, even early Teenage Bottlerocket – both the opener and the second track, “Back and Forth”, would not have been out of place on Total (2005).

And then the haters be hating: They’re just another Ramones ripoff and Screeching Weasel wannabes; They’re getting slower and slower, mellowing out at least 10% for Tales From Wyoming (2015); They’re old now and should change their name to Middle-Aged Bottlerocket; They write the same song over and over; They record the same album over and over.

But it’s a good song they keep re-writing, and it’s a good album they keep re-recording.

And the familiar TBR sound continues with “College Town” and “Don’t Go.” Really, it isn’t until the new-age synthesizer at the opening of “Robocop is a Halfbreed Sellout” (by short-lived Laramie, WY-based Sprocket Nova) that the listener might scratch his head, raise an eyebrow, and wonder “what the hell?” but even then the song rocks out in typical TBR fashion, and by the time the synthesizer reappears before the final refrain it no longer seems out of place considering the eighties-themed lyrics.

Most of the songs on Stealing the Covers seem to have been selected because someone in the band thought it was funny. We’ve got the 35-second instant classic “Shit Fuck God Damn”, originally by a band called Artimus Maximus which, we learn from the extensive liner notes, first appeared on a four-minute EP with “a good 6 or 7 songs”. Then the band is “riding my rocket ship to the gay parade”, written by another no-namer, The Gullibles, whose members were in junior high at the time and broke up before graduation. “Hat Nerd”, from The Four Eyes, is one of the dumbest songs ever written, according to Kody.

The album closes with a contribution from The Punchlines, a song (named after a punchline) called “Why the Big Pause”. Or maybe “Paws”.  A really long pause separates the first and second halves of the song, but the lyrics are about a bear with big paws. Y’all’ve heard the joke before. And maybe the real punchline is that Teenage Bottlerocket has managed to make an album of cover songs sound just like one of their regular records. The fact that hardly anyone has heard of any of these bands before, let alone any of the songs, is at least a pretty original idea. Don’t be turned off because someone else wrote the songs. Stealing the Covers sure sounds like Teenage Bottlerocket to me.

4.5/5 Stars



Album Review: The Orwells – “Terrible Human Beings”

The Orwells. I have to admit I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for these guys. They went to my High School’s rival, York in Elmhurst, Illinois. Well they weren’t much of a rival, we basically whooped up on them, so maybe that’s why I’m pulling for them. Who knew that a small-town Illinois band could channel the Troggs and The Kingsmen bashing out like they’re plugged in next to a Beetle in a 1960s garage? They may not be in orbit, but The Orwells have definitely left the stratosphere. I first caught their act at the Spillover fest in Dallas TX. They made quite an impression. Singer Mario Cuomo strutted onto the stage like a rock and roll diva: blond tresses, poofy shirt straight outta Seinfeld, and 1970s-era 4 inch heels; which to me indicated that these guys did not give a fuck. A point that was driven home when they tore down the 30-foot velvet curtains precipitating an onstage melee. So they had the attitude, they had the swagger; but could they back it up? I have to admit, after that show, I was not convinced. I bought their record “Remember When” anyway and it passed the “What is this” test; which means when it came up on the Ipod, I would say to myself “What is this?” A good sign. I had it on heavy rotation going forward. Let me throw into the mix that these guys are signed on to play Riot Fest this year. And I am anxiously awaiting their set. With all that history, I felt primed to take on their major-label sophomore effort, “Terrible Human Beings.”

When it comes to comparisons, I think most often these guys get lumped in with the Strokes. I’d say that’s fair. They have a garage/surf sound that could also remind you of Black Lips, Thee Oh Sees, or Fidlar. As I drove through the flats of west Oklahoma for work, I had this record on repeat. Was that a bad thing? Definitely not. Was it a great thing? Not really. Given the hype around these guys and the fact that “Remember When” is pretty solid, I figured this album would blow me away. It didn’t. What about the tunes? “They put a body in the bayou” opens the record with a hypnotic jangly riff that pretty much personifies their surf style. Track two, “Fry,” picks up the tempo and provides corroboration for any Strokes comparisons out there. “Creatures” brings a sultry slinky riff into the mix and for some reason the song reminds me of novelty 60s garage tunes like “Flying Purple People Eater.” The one song that redeems this entire album in my opinion is “Vacation” great hook, incendiary lyrics, it’s the whole enchilada. “Turn off your television, your permission kills civilians, no one can feel your vision, they’re on vacation masturbating.” That certainly paints a picture. On “Black Francis” the band attempts some kind of homage to the Pixies. I failed to make the connection. “M.A.D” and “Buddy” display the Orwells’ ability to craft a catchy tune, but like pop rocks candy it quickly dissipates. Of the remaining tunes on the record, “Last Call (Go Home)” is the only one I found worthy of repeat listens.

The quick and dirty: IF you’re a fan of surf rock, you’ll dig this album. It’s a solid representation of the genre. If you are a person just looking for a great record, look elsewhere. Check out The Orwells’ “Remember When” and work your way up from there. I’m still anxious to see these guys at Riot Fest. Maybe they’ll reignite my interest in “Terrible Human Beings.”

2.5/5 Stars



Album Review: Hundredth – “Rare”

Nothing strikes fear into a fan’s heart more than an announcement that a band has decided to rip apart their sound and start again. Sure, we expect a band to grow, to develop and to experiment but all within the relative confines of their signature style. However, when a band decides to recast themselves altogether, results can be mixed to say the least. Not only are the band challenging themselves, but they also have to brace themselves for the inevitable backlash from their fans. Some people will never forgive AFI for changing from the punk roots of “Answer That And Stay Fashionable” or the way Yellowcard went in a more pop-punk direction on the “Still Standing” EP. Even more popular bands that just about fall under the punk remit like Fall Out Boy and Paramore are, now, totally unrecognizable to the bands they started out as, which has been ‘divisive’ to say the least. Therefore, it is not without some degree of trepidation to learn that Hundredth have embarked on a whole new direction on their fourth record “Rare”.

Understandably, the band felt they had taken their hardcore sound as far as they could after 2015’s “Free”. Rather than split up, the band sought to metamorphosis into something different altogether. “Rare” sees the band totally dismantle their hardcore sound, leaving only the faintest of residue behind. The result is a dark, shoegaze album replete with sheets of distorted guitars and echoing, often ghostly, vocals. It is an admirable attempt at transformation and one that is, on the whole, pulled off with aplomb.

This is not a toe dipped tentatively in the water either. Hundreth have climbed to the top diving board and hurled themselves wholeheartedly into their new sound. Nothing contrived or fake here. From the The Cure-esque bassline and the layers of distorted guitar on opening song “Vertigo”, it’s clear that the band have buried any remnants of the band they were. It’s still a hard-edged, heavy track but the way the band have adopted a dark, brooding tone creates a far darker, almost oppressive soundscape. The creeping, echoing vocals from frontman Chadwick Johnson add to the air of claustrophobia giving the whole thing it’s own definite, downbeat character. As on the majority of the album they float rather than howl, dripping with ominous menace.  This is something that continues throughout the album. “Neurotic” adds bruising drums and a heavier break-down but it’s hardcore seen through the prism of 80s post punk and 90s shoegaze rather than approaching anything as crushing as heard on previous albums. “White Squall” again wears it’s 80s goth influences on it’s sleeve, starting out as a mid-tempo rocker before soon giving way to a resounding, panoramic chorus.

Thankfully, the band still know how to write urgent, insistent, heavy songs with “Hole” and “Disarray” providing a bit more bone and muscle. “Disarray” in particular hits hard with the band whipping up a discordant wall of noise as Johnson’s haunting voice echoes the line “control is a delusion/the walls are gonna cave”. At other points on the album, the band lock into a more shoegazzy groove with songs such as “Grey” and “Shy Vein” mirroring Catherine Wheel’s ability to sound aggressive over woozy, shimmery shoegaze guitars. The mid-tempo songs give the album real depth and substance. Initially, they might lack presence but on repeat listens their buzzing volatility becomes ever more exhilarating.

Hundredth’s new direction isn’t going to be for everyone. This, their fourth album, could be by a different band entirely, however, the laudable focus, commitment and sheer guts on show has seen them craft a mesmerizing, darkly beautiful album. There are obvious similarities to bands like Turnover and Nothing but if anything Hundredth’s take on shoegaze is darker, more unsettling, more nightmarish. A challenging album from a band not afraid to challenge themselves.

4/5 Stars



Album Review: Rozwell Kid “Precious Art”

Rozwell Kid takes me back to the mid-nineties and geek rock’s golden age of Weezer, Nada Surf, and Superdrag. Only twenty seconds into the album, the band displays the pitch-perfect falsetto “ooo”s so commonly associated with Weezer. Then the opener “Wendy’s Trash Can” takes off, turning into a driving seventies-style power-punk song, though few would mistake Rozwell Kid for a punk band by the end of the album, for what that’s worth; “Wendy’s Trash Can” is one of three songs out of twelve that might be fast enough to be considered “punk”.

“South By” is a fifty-five-second mostly-instrumental (at least word-less) ethereal interlude, and leads into “UHF On DVD” – a reference to the obscure 1989 Weird Al movie, I’m pretty sure – for which a lyric video has been released. “UHF On DVD” is one of the other “fast” songs on Precious Art, and is singer Jordan Hudkins’s humorous take on anxiety and insecurity. The synthesizer, a staple of geek rock, is featured prominently in this track, as are other charateristics made popular by Rivers Cuomo’s band: the aforementioned falsetto singing, as well as a tight dual guitar solo in “Total Mess”, and just as Weezer famously sang “I can’t help my boogies, they get out of control,” so too does Rozwell Kid have a song called “Booger” that begins “I had a finger deep inside my nose; I was digging through a lonely sea.”

Precious Art is Rozwell Kid’s SideOneDummy debut but amazingly the band’s fourth full-length album, even though I’m just now diving into their catalog. Am I that out of touch? Probably. Either way, free music I may not have heard of otherwise in conjunction with a writing assignment is one of the perks of writing reviews for a publication like Dying Scene. And, sorry Mountaineers, but I just don’t expect a burgeoning rock and roll scene hailing from the hills of West Virginia. What’s next, a prominent punk band from Wyoming?

While comparisons to Weezer abound, and justifiably, it took me a bit longer to pin down whose voice singer Jordan Hundkins reminded me of. Finally I landed on sixties band Lovin’ Spoonful, best known for “Do You Believe in Magic”. Once I drew this comparison, I dare say that at times Rozwell Kid has more in common with the sixties than the nineties, even if I’d already pinned them to the seventies earlier in this review. Clearly this band is not influenced by a single decade. They tour relentlessly, and have released four full-length album in six years, so there will surely be more to come from Rozwell Kid.

3.5/5 Stars



EP Review: Abolitionist – ‘The Pinnacle’

Abolitionist always skirted classification for me. Their sound is an amalgam of post-hardcore and just plain old punk rock, but it doesn’t really name check the former in the usual ways. It’s melodic, but not too melodic; there are tunes, but they’re shouty and muted in the way that the emocore coming out of DC was during the Revolution Summer. It wouldn’t be too insane to say they got a sort of garage rock Rites of Spring vibe. Listen to End on End? You hear it? It’s kinda there, right? But, Abolitionist isn’t emo, nor can they really take the -core suffix. When I group them with others in my mind, I’m not putting them with Title Fight, Dowsing, or any other emo revival group; you see, Abolitionist– above and beyond their sound– are a political punk band. I have them firmly in the realm of Propagandhi and the Rebel Spell. Where Propagandhi uses riffs and thrash inspired shred to direct their political and social rage, Abolitionist uses crunchy power chord progressions and bare-bones guitar melodies– different tools, same toolbox.

The Pinnacle is the latest EP from the Portland quartet, four songs that carry the common theme of struggling with the modern world, sometimes tearing down a falsely comforting construct (the ‘tree farms’ in “That’s No Forest, Stupid”) or even a call to arms against our own selves (“Not Alone”). The songs comes together as short blasts of cagey punk energy, paranoid and isolated, simultaneously resigned and focused. Even during the hopefulness on “Not Alone,” where vocalist Dustin Herron calls for us to become aware and supportive of the social contract, there’s frustration coiled between the lines.

It’s this frustration that bleeds into Abolitionist’s sound, which has the same grey and rain as the city they come from. “We Are the Pinnacle” might be one of the catchier songs on The Pinnacle, opening the album with sharp declaratives and a sense of guitar melody that wouldn’t be out of place on an early Hot Water Music album. “Surrounded By Everyone” is almost hypnotic in its repeating riff, represented both by chords and single notes, alluding to and maximizing the paranoia of the lyricism. It’s all simple stuff, minor key and muted, with shout-sung melodies laid over top– but it’s the right decision for the near-apocalyptic resolve in their lyrics.

The Pinnacle is a strong EP with a sound that doesn’t fit neatly anywhere, except within the broad scope of punk rock. Songs like “That’s No Forest, Stupid” cover ideas that aren’t typical topics in the political punk oeuvre, while the EP-ender “Not Alone” pushes against convention and offers not only umbrage, but solutions. The Pinnacle might not be for everyone, and even I could admit that with double the songs, it would run the risk of bleeding together into a droney mess. But, the EP that was delivered is the perfect length, with four short songs coupled with concise messages and a punchy sound. And in punk rock, no matter the subgenre, that’s about all you need.

4/5 Stars



Album Review: Rayner – ‘Disasters’

Even if you’ve only seen their name in print beforehand and Disasters marks your first run-in with Rayner, this EP will make you feel like you’ve been listening to Rayner for years. In just under 20 minutes, Rayner have crafted a comfortable and inviting listen.

Much like many other bands are doing these days, their brand of pop punk trades in the blistering speed and anger of their 90’s forefathers for slower, more inwardly introspective tunes. With familiar sounds and lyrical themes that can be easily recognized by anyone attempting to make sense of living in the modern age, it’d be easy to call them jaded but there’s also an underlying hint of optimism in these songs.

Life is a struggle, that’s for sure. But it’s less so when you’ve got bands like Rayner on your side, composing a soundtrack to help form some sort of structure to get you through it.

3.5 / 5 Stars

RIYL: The Bouncing Souls, The Menzingers, Iron Chic

Listen to Disasters here .



Album Review: The Hideout – “There’s Nothing. I’m Closing My Eyes”

Massachusetts based pop punkers The Hideout drop an album rich with melodic pop punk melodies, clamorous guitars and a clear objective to provide the narrative for everything life throws at us. This is an album shaped by the hard won battles of life that addresses the hopes, fears and disappointments we all share. All delivered with a sense of fun that keeps the blood pumping and the feet moving.

Opener “Midnight society” sees the band click into fifth gear from the outset. The pacy, distorted power chords and ringing clean riff may be familiar but provide proof that this is a band who recognize how to write a tight, pop-punk tune. “Everyone Sucks” displays the same nous for melody but ups the ante further with a rousing chorus that stands as one of the best of recent years. It’s the kind of song Blink used to knock out for fun. It serves as the perfect rallying cry for anyone done over or stepped on who is looking for the motivation to stand up for themselves. “Numbskull” is a bruising rocker with a more hardcore edge, as the band slam their instruments with all the power and fury they can muster. What the band don’t do is throwaway with many of the songs sincerely addressing weightier issues. “More Yesterdays, Less Tomorrows” and “Death Dealer” act as the emotional ballast to the album, giving it depth and substance. World weary lines such as “Feels like I’m holding a ghost in it’s shell and “I’m fighting to stay present” are delivered with thought provoking poignancy recalling the power and passion of The Wonder Years.

Understanding of dynamics and how to manage tempo is evident on “Trash Panda”. It starts at a slower pace with ringing, single picked notes before igniting into a fierce punk tune with fire in it’s belly, like a predator stalking its prey before going in for the kill. It’s reminiscent of early The Menzingers and would sit perfectly on Chamberlain Waits. “Birds, Ball & Chain ramps up the ‘woah woahs’ and sees some clever vocal interplay. “Forget It” rides deep into a storm of choppy guitar while “Ghost Stories” features a riff that kicks like a horse bursting with the power and intensity  of a band as unpredictable and exciting as Knuckle Puck. The album finishes with “Coppertooth”, a song primed and ready to take the pit down. It’s the kind of song that takes all those worries about the bills that are mounting up, that relationship that’s fizzling out or that asshole boss that’s giving you a hard time, wraps them into a tight ball and tosses them over the side of a building. All that matters is the relationship between the listener and the words being howled until the throat goes hoarse.

“There’s Nothing. I’m Closing My Eyes” is pure undiluted pop punk. Uncut and unfettered, it’s raw, unpredictable and bursting with humanity. With a keen understanding of dynamics the band know when to hold back before going for the jugular with a chorus ready to superglue itself to your soul. It’s the perfect album for anyone trying to figure out their place in this complicated and confusing world in which we live………….. and then decide it doesn’t really matter anyway.

4/5 Stars



Album Review: Booze & Glory – “Chapter IV”

Pull out your combat boots and throw on your old suspenders, get ready to bust some heads and drink some pints. London’s oi! punk legends Booze and Glory are back with a brand new album that will have you singing along and thrashing about the living room like you’re in an East London pub at last call. After a battle with cancer and a few lineup changes, Booze and Glory are back with their most intriguing, anthemic album yet. 

“Chapter IV” is an album that shows a band’s true growth, the songs on the new album carry a certain message of carrying on, unity, and life passing you by. It’s a more introspective album, an album that makes you think while still keeping your head moving. While the lovely simplicity of oi! punk is still there in the guitars and drums, the lyrics carry a certain maturity that many modern oi! punk bands are lacking. The anthemic lyrics and bass heavy guitar riffs lend comparison to Rancid, but with a more real feel. The album starts out with “Days, Months, Years,” a song that starts with a superbly un-oi piano solo before carrying us off to the very best in anthemic London oi.  “Carry On” gives us a full on assault on anthemic lyrics, “but, look at me I still carry on” sounds like something just waiting to be shouted at the top of your lungs. The songs from start to finish carry meaning, and it’s a true jewel in the library of any punk fan, let alone a fan of oi! 

The new album is simply that for Booze and Glory, “Chapter IV” is the fourth full length release from the London natives, and truly the next chapter of growth for a band that already boasts a pretty loyal following. New listeners and old of Booze and Glory will find “Chapter IV” to be a great example of what Oi! Punk truly can be. Simple yet mature. From “Days, Months, Years” to “Start Believing,” Booze and Glory has knocked it out of the park.

Booze and Glory gave us everything we expected and more. This isn’t the early rough recordings of Booze and Glory we’ve gotten used to, “Chapter IV” released through Burning Heart Records is Booze and Glory at its finest, and leaves us just salivating for more.

4.5/5 stars



Album Review: AFI – ‘AFI (The Blood Album)’

My first big assignment, AFI (The Blood Album), and I have to admit I’m a little overwhelmed. I started out with the usual research. I mean AFI formed in effing 1991! That’s 26 years of music for those too lazy to do the math. They have fans that live and die with every record, who have followed them since the beginning! Initially, I planned to do my research and try to play myself off as someone deeply versed in AFI’s music and history. But the fans, they’re rabid. They’ll see right through that. So I thought back to when I first heard AFI. And it was pretty far back; that Ice Cream Truck video (“Third Season”). I remember at the time thinking about buying their records, it was just the type of music I dug. Right there with NOFX and Bad Religion. Cali punk with quite a bit of Misfits thrown into the mix, most obviously in Davey Havok’s singing style.

Somehow I never bought that record and never became one of those rabid fans. I tried to catch up. Somewhere around 2000 I downloaded Black Sails in the Sunset and The Art of Drowning. They just didn’t stick. Now I’m a sucker for a pop song, and given that I’d always wanted to get into AFI, Sing the Sorrow definitely made it into my rotation and from then on, I followed them. I listened to their records. I marveled at Davey Havok’s fashion sense and commitment to his aesthetic. He definitely carried the torch with Marilyn Manson to pass on to Chris Motionless. I always respected that. And you can’t deny the hits: “Girl’s Not Grey,” and “Silver and Cold.” I love those tunes. “Miss Murder”? I don’t turn it off when it comes on the radio. The first time I caught them live was at Lollapalooza in 2010, and they brought it. I have to admit I’ve always rooted for them. Some of those rabid fans might have given up, called them sellouts for moving away from So-Cal punk to a more 80s new wave goth sound, but whenever a punk band breaks it big, it resonates with me and I say, “Yeah. That’s right. This is good stuff and people should latch onto it.”

Sorry, this prelude is getting long-winded. You might think I’m stalling. I’m not. It’s just that this is AFI! It’s fucking important to a lot of people. I can’t move on without mentioning Burials. When I heard “17 Crimes,” I immediately bought the album. The one thing you have to say is that AFI has evolved, but they have settled into their skins. If you held on for the ride, you have to be stoked as they are churning out some consistently great records.

AFI (The Blood Album) is no exception. If you are one of those rabid fans, I’m preaching to the choir, you’ve already bought the album. Hopefully on vinyl, of which they released four color variants: one for each blood type (A, B, AB, and O). Ok. Now for the rest of you. If you bailed on AFI because they became the standard-bearer for 80s goth synth-pop, you should probably take a pass on this album as this genre has become the band’s adopted sweetspot, and the sound resonates through about 75% of The Blood Album. Jade Puget manned the boards for this record and he does an amazing job. I’m guessing that he took some things away from working with Gil Norton (producer of Burials) because he has the 80s postpunk sound nailed down. Now don’t get me wrong. AFI can still rock, and for the most part they are a punk band as evidenced by track 9; but it seems these days that they’re more comfortable channeling Bauhaus and Joy Division with haunting synthesizers and disembodied vocals. After many listenings, I have found that each side of this record has a very distinct feel. On Side A (songs 1-7), AFI engages their darker, more somber arrangements, while Side B hearkens back to the old days with more rollicking punk jams.

“Dark Snow” opens the record, straddling the line between rock and synth-pop quite admirably and prepares the listener for what’s to come. “Still a Stranger” resonates with me as it bears the hallmark of Jade Puget’s handywork at the boards, the acoustic guitar, an interesting backbone; they abandoned synth-pop on this one for a more straight-up emo vibe. “Aurelia” and “Hidden Knives” continue with the usual AFI, dark imagery and catchy hooks. The sing along chorus of “Get Hurt” is mesmerizing…. “I can’t let you see / I can’t let you see me sleeping.” WHY NOT!?! Because you’re a damn vampire that turns into a bat!? “Above the Bridge” steps in for a Cure-like turn, then we get “So Beneath You” for the requisite AFI atheistic themes.

“Snow Cats,” the first single off the record, begins my side B. On “Dumb Kids” Davey somehow channels Leonard Graves Phillips from The Dickies as vocal inspiration, I’d put this one up with any purely punk song in the AFI oeuvre (Give me a whole record of this AFI!!) “Feed From the Floor” reminds me of everything appealing about the dark side of new wave: Bauhaus, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, amazing homage to that genre; and somehow they’ve lifted the guitar effect from Icicle Works! The album closes strong with the second single, “White Offerings,” and [another fave] “The Wind that Carries Me Away” (trust me, it will get stuck in your head).

The Quick and Dirty: When I sit down to review an album for Dying Scene, I basically force-feed myself the record until I come up with some opinions on the songs and the album itself. I have to say, having AFI (The Blood Album) on heavy rotation for a couple of weeks has been an absolute joy. At the very least it’s an extremely listenable record: great songs from front to back. It leans heavily toward the 80s Goth/postpunk sound for the most part, but there are some nuggets that hearken back to AFI’s punk rock roots. Another concept that keeps popping up in my mind as I listen to AFI (The Blood Album): that I really want to see these songs live. It’s not often that you go see a band that’s been around 26 years and you think “play the new stuff.”

4/5 Stars