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Album Review: Couple’s Fight – “There’s Someone Else”

Another Valentine’s Day gone by and another stellar release from the dysfunctional Phoenix-based duo Couple’s Fight, I certainly hope this is going to become a yearly tradition. While most American’s took the day to appreciate their significant other, x-romantic partners Alaynha Gabrielle and Travis James used the hallmark holiday to release six new blazing dis tracks aimed at each other.

For a basic idea of what this new E.P. Is like basically imagine dance punk duo Matt&kim with less production and if they hated every fiber of each others being. The new record, There’s Someone Else, like the first record, Breaking Up, is composed entirely of songs based on common couples squabbles, but this time the punchlines are punchier, the dance tracks are dancier, and Gabrielle’s big voice and creativity shine far brighter, which is most evident in her more stout jabs at Travis this time around.

For their new record the two piece takes on such romantic topics like the way a relationship changes for the negative in “The Way it used to be,” cheating in the tune “There’s Someone Else,” fighting in public in “Causing a Scene” and comparing one’s partner to their parents in “You’re Just Like with their tongue in cheek songwriting and upbeat danceable tracks.

One track that really stood out on the record was “Anything For Your (To Leave)” about the scary change that happens in a relationship when it goes from wanting to do anything for your partner to being willing to anything to get rid of them. The track is unlike the rest of the record because it features an acoustic guitar, and it almost sounds like it was more made for Travis James main project Travis James and the Acrimonious Assembly of Arsonists.

The new Couple’s Fight record even brings the Alaynha and Travis to couple’s therapy with the love expert Dr. Andy Warpigs filling in the vocals of the therapist. What exactly did Dr. Warpigs prescribe for the ailing relationship? A full split of course … and by the way, he’s boning both of them.

All in all “There’s Someone Else” is a fun listen that really highlights the clever word-play of both Alaynha and Travis, and is a definite valentine’s punk classic. Oh, it’s also available for nothing on the bands Bandcamp right now.

3.5/5 Stars



Album Reviewo: Muscle Beach – “Muscle Beach”

Denver’s Muscle Beach offer a catchy brand of furious post-hardcore with enough eclectic embellishments to stand out from the pack.

In a continually crowded marketplace where hardcore and post-hardcore bands seemingly disappear as soon as they’ve arrived, it takes something special to get yourself noticed. A good place to start is to stockpile a veritable arsenal of hard riffs and possess a front man who sounds like he regularly gargles diesel oil and bits of gravel. Similarly, you should sound authentic. Throw every ounce of soul into every scream but maintain that air of mischievousness to leave the listener bruised and beaten but elated and satisfied. Thankfully, Muscle Beach contain that and more. They produce muscular, frenzied, ear-splitting post-hardcore but with an unshakable swagger and with hooks you could hang an oil tanker off.

The album launches with gleeful slabs of distortion on “Tiger Lily” with front man Justin Sanderson’s spine-tingling howl ripping through the chaos. The guitars are sharp and emphatic; beaten with furious abandon as if the band’s very lives depended on it. “Re-animators” struts and rolls with a cutting, glam punk riff, recalling Blcklisters and The Blood Brothers. The song provides a veritable feast of riffs with each more ferocious than the last. The kinds of riff that sounds like they could decimate a rain forest. Impressively, the band possess an infinite fleet of riffs, ready to deploy, seemingly at will. The phenomenally titled “Shark 22:Electric Boogaloo” features a stalking, circling figure, like a shark hunting it’s prey, before launching into a blisteringly violent aural assault. “Pressure Kills” highlights the band’s understanding of nuance as they increase and decrease the speed of the riffs, subtly altering the mood from festering rage to all out fury. “Hot Trash” storms and spits until collapsing into a head spinning, swirling maelstrom. It’s akin to suddenly finding yourself in the eye of the storm before being swept up by more savage winds.

Although each song is impressively stacked with fierce riffs and fierce vocals, the remaining members of the band are just as important to their sound. For example, “Eagle Wizard” is built on a cavalcade of slamming, marching drums, while “Front Steps” and “Gnarlitute” allow bassist Derek Arriata to show off his clunking, chunky sound. He provides a bowel shakingly solid anchor for the band to explode around him. The later song also features one of the best riffs on the album; a speeding, fireball that barrels along with reckless abandon. The band are also able to create enough space in their sound to justify the “post-harcore” tag. While they do share the DNA of post-hardcore legends Refused, they don’t incorporate any genre-defying experiments or off-kilter jazz influences. However, they are happy to take meaningful side-steps. Many of the longer songs feature more doomy, almost metal breakdowns while guitarist Sanderson is happy to layer on the effects, adding chorus or reverb. Nevertheless, these are fleeting pauses amongst the melee.

Muscle Beach have crafted a post-hardcore album built to last. They pack each song with riff upon riff but utilize them effectively, unafraid to play with time signatures or atmospherics. In doing so the album has more to offer the deeper you go. It is as volatile and unhinged as you would hope but often comes across as playful rather than malicious. An thrilling assault to the senses that leaves vibrations in the air long after it has finished.

4/5 Stars



Album Review: Darko – “Bonsai Mammoth”

After spending the better part of the past decade cutting their teeth on a string of EPs and singles, Darko are entering the realm of full length albums. Bonsai Mammoth, the band’s debut LP, sees the band coming out with fists swinging and guitars blazing.

“Life Forms” kicks off the album, with a slow intro before launching into a high energy ripper, setting the tone of things to come. Like all great skate punk acts, Darko make use of dueling guitar leads to give their songs an urgent feeling, ripping through notes at lightning speeds. The band continues to keep up the pace for nearly the entire duration of Bonsai Mammoth, giving listeners only a 35 second break in the form of “The Chernobyl Effect,” which acts as an interlude between the album’s first and second halves.

Early promotional materials for Bonsai Mammoth state that the album breaks apart from the band’s previous conceptual narratives. While that may be true on a technical level (there’s certainly no fictional story to follow from track-to-track), there’s still an underlying current of despair and the search for hope, giving the album a sense of cohesiveness and unity. The aforementioned “Life Forms” declares the band’s autonomy and apathy right from the get-go: “I don’t wanna be a part of it and I don’t care for all of this shit.” This might not be the most original of defiant statements, but it’s surely what a lot of people are feeling all over the world given the current state of things.

2017 may have only just begun, but it’s already in dire need of an aggressive soundtrack. Darko and Bonsai Mammoth are there to start things off.

4 / 5

RIYL: Propagandhi, A Wilhelm Scream, Brutal Youth



7″ REVIEWS: NOFX – “HEPATITIS BATHTUB” and “OXY MORONIC”

I’m trying to keep emotion out of this. I saw on the Fat Wreck Chords website that NOFX was releasing a brand new 7″ called Hepatitis Bathtub featuring similar artwork to that of their book of the same name. The item description on the Fat Wreck Chords website gave no information other than the track listing, but since this was less than two months following the release of their best full-length studio album at least since 2006 I assumed that this new record consisted of First Ditch Effort rejects. Of course I’d recognized the title “Nothing But A Nightmare”, a Rudimentary Peni cover song that was performed on NOFX’s 1995 live album, but I’d thought the band must have re-recorded it, as they had laudably re-recorded “Hold It Back”, another 1980s track, a few years ago. Songs “Young Drunk and Stupid” and “Death of a Friend”, judged by their titles, seemed spot on with other First Ditch Effort song topics, as well as prominent themes in their collective autobiography.

But no, this record does not consist of new songs, or even of new recordings of old songs. Rather, these songs were recorded in 1987 “in a basement in Omaha”, before NOFX signed with Epitaph Records and long before El Hefe was a member of the band. To be fair, I did find a press release on the Fat Wreck Chords website from a few weeks prior to the release date that described the Hepatitis Bathtub EP as consisting of a “recently unearthed, crazy old NOFX recording to go along with the crazy old stories in the book.” So, while this information wasn’t, and still isn’t, in the item description on the Fat website, had I done a little more research I wouldn’t have felt as let down the first time I gave it a listen after receiving my pre-order in the mail.

For those yet to delve into the first chapter or two of NOFX’s career, be aware that Fat Mike and Company weren’t very good in the 1980s. Liberal Animation (1988), the band’s debut LP, may be hard to listen to but compared to the earlier stuff it’s pristine. The recording quality on Hepatitis is poor, but if we can look the other way for Operation Ivy, then we can forgive NOFX, too; it’s the songs that matter most. But severely lacking in NOFX’s early work are melodies. The band was stylistically more hardcore-punk back then, but on the occasion Fat Mike attempted a melody he too often paralleled the guitar riffs and bass lines, rather than having a distinct vocal melody with instrumental accompaniment. This is evident at times on each Hepatitis song, particularly “Too Mixed Up” and “Nothing But A Nightmare”, the latter of which is longer than I’d previously known it to be (I admit I’m not familiar with the original version); the band must not have thought the song was worth playing in full on I Heard They Suck Live (1995).

Now, I feel like I know kind of a lot about NOFX . Still, Maximum Rocknroll, a compilation of pre-Epitaph NOFX recordings, is one NOFX record I’ve had trouble spending much time with. In fact, I’m so unfamiliar with the compilation that upon seeing the track listing for Hepatitis Bathtub I didn’t recognize the titles “No Problems” and “Too Mixed Up” from Maximum Rocknroll. The versions are slightly different, but that would have gone unnoticed, too, had I not looked it up out of sheer curiosity. This “new” EP’s bright spot is “Young Drunk and Stupid”. It’s impossible to make out the lyrics, but the overall composition has by far the most depth, and would most benefit from a re-recording a la “Hold it Back”. All in all, this new release of old material is a disappointment.

Also released sporadically throughout the fall, and on various colored vinyl, was the Oxy Moronic 7” single, dubbed “Original Demos #3” by Fat Wreck Chords. With the album version on side A and a demo version of the same song on side B this record struck me as a cop-out money-grabbing gimmick, but I overpaid for it on eBay anyway.

And I’m glad I did! “Oxy Moronic” is one of the stronger songs on an album filled with strong songs, but to see where it came from is fascinating. The demo version bears the same title and the occasional lyric – although “Oxy Moron” is uttered repeatedly, not “Oxy Moronic” – but otherwise it sounds like a completely different song. While faster, the demo is simply not as clever melodically or lyrically as the final product, and, for what it’s worth, the production quality of a demo is never as good as the studio version, though this track still blows the Hepatitis Bathtub EP out of the water. If only someone could provide a detailed step-by-step description of how the First Ditch Effort version came to be. Maybe for their next book.

In summary: NOFX still good, Hepatitis Bathtub EP bad, Oxy Moronic 7” interesting.

 



Album Review: The Menzingers – ‘After the Party’

Is there ever a better time in a person’s life than their 20’s? Depending on what path your life takes, probably not. For many young people, particularly those who went to college straight out of high school, being a twenty-something is the first time they get to experience any real freedom. Sure, things aren’t exactly the greatest right now- everyone is in debt up to their necks, the job market doesn’t show any visible signs of getting better, and the rent, as always, is too damn high. But at the same time, these are problems that should work themselves out when you’re older. For now, it’s time to live it up and party.  

So, then, what do you do once you hit the big 3-0? As it turns out, exiting your twenties doesn’t automatically make you an adult and there’s always more growing up to do. Questioning your life’s turns or trying to make life meaningful have always been good fodder for artists, but for those of us who grew up in the late 90’s and early aughts, we not only have to find our place in the world, we have to find our place in a world that doesn’t have room for us.

This brings us to the main thesis of The Menzingers’ fifth studio album, After the Party: “Where are we gonna go now that our twenties are over?” The question burns through the album’s first track, the Jeff Rosenstock-esque ripper “Tellin’ Lies,” though the sentiment is repeated over and over again throughout the album, with verses dedicated to the worthlessness of [expensive] degrees received in the name of pleasing parents, and an entire song reflecting on being the only one left out well past last call. Album highlight “House on Fire” turns up the heat of that question with the opening line “Waiting for your life to start then you die” and its refrain “Does it make you nervous? Have you fulfilled your purpose? Yeah, does it make you nervous- the house is on fire” only pushes the urgency felt by people entering adulthood only to realize that there’s more to being an adult than turning 30.

After the Party is more than just worrying about the future, however, and The Menzingers are just as able to look back at their history and draw influence from it and vocalist/guitarist Greg Barnett continues to put his best foot forward when it comes to nostalgia-driven songs. First singles “Lookers” and “Bad Catholics” are two sides of the same coin- the former fondly recalls a flame that has since extinguished, while the latter has Barnett coming to the realization that sometimes feelings disappear and romanticizing a lost love is just that: romanticization. “Your Wild Years” is reminiscent of one of Barnett’s older tracks “Casey,” albeit with a greater emphasis on the person rather than the foolish deeds committed with them, showing his evolution as a writer. Meanwhile, the band’s other singer, Tom May, only takes the lead on four tracks, but his abstract approach to lyricism has never been more sharp (just take a look at his very first line on the album, “I held up a liquor store demanding top shelf metaphors”).

In a mini-interview with Alternative Press last December, May was asked if the new album would be more “Rented World or On the Impossible Past?” and May flat out responded “On the Impossible Past.” And in a sense, it’s true. Musically speaking, After the Party isn’t as explorative as its predecessor Rented World, with many of the tracks sticking to the band’s soulful brand of bouncing punk rock, with plenty of hooks that Mick Jones would have written if he had grown up in Scranton in 1997. There are still some other styles to be found: you can almost hear the syncopated upstroke influence of Bob and the Sagets in “Tellin’ Lies,” the full-song-length-interlude “Black Mass” is driven by a steadily thumping bass and softly strummed guitars, and “The Bars” features Irish waltzing, not unlike on Masharimdaba, the band’s overlooked covers single released on St. Patrick’s Day 2016. All-in-all, however, After the Party focuses on tightening up the sound that The Menzingers are best known for already.

For all their pondering and searching, The Menzingers never find an answer to their question. Maybe it’s because there never was just one single way to be 30 years old in the first place. Sure, there’s the train of thought that older generations keep pushing: get a job, get married, have kids, and die, but it’s foolish to ignore that there are new factors to take into account, primarily economic, that have made growing up more complicated these days. The closest thing that comes to a satisfying conclusion is that “only a fool would think that living could be easy,” because living is anything but easy.

4.5 / 5

RIYL: The Replacements, Jeff Rosenstock, The Gaslight Anthem



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.

5/5



Album Review: Youth Funeral – “Heavenward”

From listening to the instrumental track Bloom – the opening track on Youth Funeral’s first full-length release – it appears evident that the band has a crucial understanding of the intricacies and subtleties of their instruments. The track showcases the groups command over their craft, with some exceptional notes shining through the instrumental. This is followed up by a track called Lonely Man, which presents a truer indicator of their style.

Read more about it here



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 Bandcamp.com 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