Search Results for "Album Review"

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



Album Review: Captain, We’re Sinking – The King of No Man

Captain, We’re Sinking’s last album, The Future Is Cancelled, became an era defining record for me – the kind of album with songs that get stuck to a time and place; a friend’s car, an old couch, a city I left – and it was all heralded by the band’s angular, aggressive, and melodic take on punk rock. It was the music of The Menzingers, the Lawrence Arms, Hot Water Music, and Lifetime, but younger, meaner, and more desperate than any and all combined. The Future Is Cancelled was a record destined to be searched for tattooable lines, mined for meaning, and sung loud with open throats. It’s odd to think that it’s been four years since that record came out, and since then, save for a solo album and a B-sides and demos compilation, Captain, We’re Sinking has been relatively quiet. The new album, The King of No Man, is a welcome return for the Scranton punks – and no less an achievement than The Future Is Cancelled, arriving with a more expansive sound and just as cutting lyrics.

Much is made of the fact that singer and guitarist Bobby Barnett is the younger brother of Greg Barnett of the Menzingers, and perhaps rightfully. There are similarities between the bands – both write songs harnessed to real life, with strong emotional imagery laid on top of a foundation of melodic punk. Where they differ is their approaches to these elements. The Menzingers’ new album, After the Party is an incredible record, but you can see the differences in how the Barnett brothers handle their subject matter. The Menzingers tell stories. Their songs have characters, and through these perspectives everything else is rooted. Captain, We’re Sinking tells their stories almost exclusively through themselves, and there is more mood and imagery, mixed in with plaintive calls of rage and heartache. Captain, We’re Sinking’s songs are almost like violent and sad prose poems, only a dream removed from reality – abstracted but not abstract.

The King of No Man thrives in this area of visceral detachment. It’s the separation between the entity and the experience, leaving only the latter as this amorphous blob of bleak human reckoning. Sonically, Captain, We’re Sinking mirrors this by straying further away from the core sound of melodic punk, and to a small degree the sound of their second album. Where big choruses and jangly-chord Springsteen worship has been a hallmark of a lot of their contemporaries, Captain, We’re Sinking take a lot of influence from the edgy, teetering musicality of post-hardcore. It’s actually kind of funny, of all the bands who claim Hot Water Music as an influence, these Scrantonites might be the only ones who kinda sorta sound like them. It’s not an imitation, to be sure – a lot of people take gravelly vocals and singalongs as the only thing Hot Water Music had to offer – but instead it’s the Wollard-esque riffs, like the long stream of hammer-ons at the beginning of “Water,” or even the sharp crunching in the latter half of “The Future is Cancelled Part 2” that reveals their influence.

Another musical element that shows up in The King of No Man is almost an inevitability – the emo revival is here to stay, and Captain, We’re Sinking have clearly taken influence from this outcropping of noodly and contemplative bands. You can hear it in the production, which is a bit cleaner, but not enough to betray the spirit of the band. Clean arpeggios and tapping appear across the album, but in true Captain, We’re Sinking form, they’re utilized as a new tool. The chiming notes that run across “Hunting Trip” still have just an edge of distortions, as if the slightest loss of control could send the track caterwauling into dark and dangerous territory.

Despite all these influences, Captain, We’re Sinking implements them flawlessly. The King of No Man’s strength is that post-hardcore and emo are blended so well into this very songwriting-oriented style so that nothing feels out of place. One of my favorite moments across the entire album is in the opener, “Trying Year,” where they effortlessly break into a bendy rock n’ roll solo between walls of stuttering and chiming riffs. Such are the wide and malleable boundaries of Captain, We’re Sinking’s core sound, it doesn’t even feel odd for them to wail into Single Mothers territory with the fuzzy hardcore of “Don’t Show Bill.”

I’ve talked a lot about Captain, We’re Sinking’s relationship and influence from other music, but one of the other things The King of No Man has to offer is a sly connection to their past. The King of No Man shares traits, themes, and even riffs with The Future Is Cancelled, as if the albums were meant to run parallel to each other. My favorite song on the album, “Books,” shares hospital imagery with first album banger “Annina, We Will Miss You” and questions of faith with second-album closer, “Shoddy Workmanship.” “Books” will live on in live sets for years to come, as the line: “hands skillfully guide machines” becomes an audience-crooned favorite.

There’s also the most obvious argument for The King of No Man being a companion piece to The Future Is Cancelled, with “The Future Is Cancelled Part II.” The song continues the leitmotif from the previous album, but it’s darker and bassier, murkier than before, filling out the space between howled lyrics. It can represent the parallelity of experience; a divided by years, but the cycle remains sort of thing. Or it can be a true sequel, a bookmark of now referencing the bent corner of chapter two – either way, it’s an interesting stylistic choice that adheres these two albums together as canon.

The King of No Man is the kind of record you want your favorite band to release. Captain, We’re Sinking have made a work of art that references their past while spinning it into something entirely contemporary. It is an incredibly satisfying way to grow, especially for a punk band, a notoriously difficult genre to mature in. But, in the face of age and time, new trends and old tendencies, Captain, We’re Sinking have managed to create a powerful, raw, tough, and sincere collection of new songs that shine in their quiet parts, so they can burn in their loudest.

5/5 stars



Album Review: Rise Against – ‘Wolves’

Hey look, Rise Against released a new album. Wolves is the band’s eighth full length studio album, and if you haven’t accepted the fact that they’ve settled into a very specific sound by now, you’re in for a world of disappointment. It’s been eleven years (!) since the band put out The Sufferer & the Witness, and other than switching out one guitarist for another, very little else has changed since then. Whether that’s a pro or a con is up to the listener.

Wolves is full of melodic-punk songs that could easily be interchanged with tracks off The Black Market without anyone noticing. That sounds like an insult, but it’s not meant to be one. Much like many of their Fat Wreck and Epitaph contemporaries, Rise Against have found their comfort zone and are sticking to it. Sure, Tim unleashes his scream here and there, like in the title track or “Too Many Walls” and there’s a hint of ska in “Bullshit” but the album is largely filled with 3 and a half minute songs that coast the line between societal politics and personal politics and are loaded with plenty of harmonizing “whoas.” Sometimes it pays off (“House on Fire” and “Mourning in Amerika” are catchy enough to satisfy anyone who enjoyed past singles “Tragedy + Time” and “Audience of One”) and sometimes it doesn’t (“Far from Perfect,” and “Politics of Love” aren’t terrible, but they’re certainly not memorable either).

Megaphone” and “Broadcast[Signal]Frequency” are among the best songs on the album and it’s a shame that they’ve been relegated to bonus track status. Both are fast and aggressive- two traits that are often missing from the band’s current output. If you’re only going to listen to a handful of songs from the album, make it these two. They don’t accurately reflect the album proper, but to put it bluntly, these two songs are to Wolves what “Grammatizor” and “Voice of Dissent” were to Appeal to Reason.

Wolves might be Rise Against’s safest album yet. If you can get past that, however, Wolves isn’t all that bad of an album.

3 / 5 stars

RIYL: Anti-Flag, Pennywise, Bad Religion



Album Review: The Dopamines – ‘Tales of Interest’

Quit your job, shred your bills, and toss out all that Perrier in your fridge. The Dopamines are back with a brand new full length album to remind you that maybe life isn’t all that great but at least alcohol exists. After a five year wait between albums, Tales of Interest carries a lot of weight on its shoulders, but in true Dopamines fashion the band doesn’t really seem to care for the expectations that others have set for them.

Tales of Interest is a darker album. While The Dopamines’ lyrical themes have always struck a chord with the jaded and jobless, the glossy production and brevity of the music added an air of humor to them before. Here, the guitars are heavier than they’ve ever been before, and though it’s not uncommon to hear tones like this coming from a midwestern punk band, it’s new for The Dopamines and it lends a more sinister feeling to lines like “I’ve got so much more drinking to do, mistakes that I’ll consequently blame on you” (“The King of Swilling Powers I, II, III”) and “Sometimes I just want to pull out a gun and shower you all in my brains” (“Business Papers,” a re-recording of the band’s contribution to The Thing That Ate Larry Livermore).

That’s not to say that Tales of Interest is a completely new version of The Dopamines. The album’s second half contains a handful of songs with the classic Dopamines structure (“Pavlovian Fixtures,” “Open Letter,” “Expect the Worst”). They’re just played by a band with more experience and confidence in their abilities, and willing to experiment. “Kalte Ente” is an instrumental tune, “The King of Swilling Powers (Part I, II, III)” is three and a half minutes long, and “083133” contains a harsh breakdown, all things that the Dopamines haven’t done before. The band even recorded the album as a four piece (although they’ve toured and played shows with a second guitarist in the past, they officially added Rad Girlfriend Records founder / Raging Nathans guitarist Josh Goldman to the lineup a few years ago)- another first for the band.

Change isn’t something we might not have wanted from The Dopamines, but it’s certainly something that they needed. Another Expect the Worst or Vices this is not, and Tales of Interest is all the better for it.

4 / 5 stars

RIYL: The Copyrights, Dillinger Four, Rivethead



Album Review: Goddamnit – “I’ll Never Be Okay, I’ll Never Be the Same”

In a moment of self reflection, I realized I am the horrendous cliche of a beard punk dude. I’m on the bad side of my twenties, my face is half-covered in fur, and I finally gave in and bought a pair of New Balance’s. So, keep in mind, when you’re reading this review, I’m a man with a fair amount of flannel. This is sorta the stuff I go for. So, when Goddamnit’s I’ll Never Be Okay, I’ll Never Be the Same was pitched to me, it tripped over my most valued inner search engine optimizer– FFO: Hot Water Music.

Well, when you invoke the saviors, how can I say no?

Goddamnit is from Philly, and accordingly, they’re not out of place with all of the associations I have with Pennsylvania punk. Ma Jolie, The Menzingers, Captain, We’re Sinking, Restorations– you know the names. They play melodic punk colored with post-hardcore and emo, intricate arrangements that share the spotlight with the songwriting. Goddamnit has a touch more alt rock in their sound than the others, openly owning up to Foo Fighters’ influence in their press release. The result is a pretty solid sounding album, in the sense that some of those 90s emo sounds can be airy and fleeting. The alt rock grounds the album into something more substantial and a bit chunkier. It’s a difficult balance, because a little too much in the other direction could have drained all the punk from Goddamnit’s veins. For the most part, the balance is struck and I’ll Never Be Okay, I’ll Never Be the Same ends up being one of the better albums of 90s worship I’ve heard in a long time without ever sinking too deep into pantomime.

“Fix Dis” begins with a phone call sound byte that is probably supposed to signal desperation, but doesn’t quite nail an emotion for me, as much as it lampshades a musical trope. But then again, I’ve never been a big fan of that sort of thing. Either way, the song is excellent, a bookmark that opens the page to acts like Quicksand and Sunny Day Real Estate and bridges the gap to modern melodic punk. “Letterbox” is one of my favorite songs on the record, with its clackety-clak drumbeats and guitar-heavy attack. When it gets to the loud riffage in the end, it sweeps you up in energy before succumbing to noise.

When it comes to bellowed choruses and post-hardcore hold-and-release, Goddamnit is at their best. The middle of the album is filled with strong, contemplative jams and big hooks. “Third Time’s a Charm” is the closest they get to any outside the box musical decisions with a couple piano chords, which is a shame because, I’d hate to think that the genre that gave us Fugazi, Shellac, and Quicksand can only grow in the one direction that modern punk has decided to drag it– to unabashed accessibility. But, that’s exactly where I’ll Never Be Okay… takes us, ending the album with an acoustic pop punk song. The most interesting part of “The Message” is the programmed, fuzzed out hip hop beat that opens it; otherwise, it feels like a saccharine call back to the worst of the genre, another “Swing Life Away” to be filed away as a reason to lift the needle early.

Goddamnit succeeds more than they misstep, and if you can handle I’ll Never Be Okay, I’ll Never Be the Same’s dalliances with the sillier traits of their influences, there’s a lot to admire in this release. The pop-acoustic finish and megaphone vocals are easy to glance over when you get into the meat of the album. There are a couple opportunities for editing, but as an album, it largely succeeds when it is played loud and driven toward catharsis on the backs of winding riffs.

3.5/5



Album Review: Gnarwolves – “Outsiders”

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

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

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

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

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

2.5/5



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

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

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

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

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

4/5 Stars



The Dirty Nil – ‘Minimum R&B’

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

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

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

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

4.5/5 Stars



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/5 Stars



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

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

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

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

4 / 5

RIYL: Riverdales, The Hextalls, Masked Intruder



EP Review: Fitness – “Puppet Show”


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

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

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

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

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

4/5 stars