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Album Review: No Use For A Name “Rarities Vol. I: The Covers”

A couple of years ago I concluded my review of No Use For A Name’s All The Best Songs (reissue) with the plea for a NUFAN b-sides and rarities compilation to be released sometime in the future. This past summer I got my wish with Rarities Vol. I: The Covers. Note the best part of the title: Vol. I – there will be more!!!

The album kicks off with The Vapors’ “Turning Japanese” which was recorded for the classic Vagrant Records compilation Before You Were Punk (how great were the nineties for punk compilations?). In fact, die-hard No Use fans will recognize many of these songs already. I had thought I was die-hard, and am ashamed for not knowing more of these tracks ahead of time.

Fat Wreck Chords promoted the album in part by releasing “Hybrid Moments” in the weeks leading up to the release date. No Use’s version was met with mild criticism for having slightly different lyrics than the original. This reviewer doesn’t care. Tony’s imitation of The Misfits’ lead singer Glenn Danzig is fantastic, complete with the exaggerated vibrato which was probably intentional, but maybe not.

One of the joys of recording cover songs for a band has to be the opportunity to do things you don’t usually get to do. “I’ve Heard” (Dag Nasty) is a throwback for No Use; even in 1997, when it was recorded, No Use hadn’t been a hardcore band in several years. And how about that cheesy synthesizer sound in Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence”?

While punk bands generally relegate cover songs to compilations or ep releases, No Use For A Name didn’t shy away from including cover songs on their proper albums. Leche Con Carne, Making Friends, More Betterness, and Hard Rock Bottom contained one unoriginal song each. These four tracks were not included on this Rarities compilation, although a different and earlier version of “Fairytale of New York” is unearthed here.

These thirteen tracks were all recorded by Ryan Greene – who produced most of No Use’s best-known material – between 1996 and 2005. “Dream Police” has that over-produced quality found on Keep Them Confused, recorded the same year, but overall the recordings have a pure stripped-down punk rock sound to them, even taking into account the aforementioned synthesizer.

Still, some songs were previously unreleased. For example, No Use was going to release “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” on something until Me First and the Gimme Gimmes put it on their show tunes album, so the No Use version just sat on the shelf until now. Also, “The Munsters’ Theme” and their early version of “Fairytale of New York” were unreleased until now (I think).

One of the true highlights is “Badfish”, recorded for the Sublime tribute album back in 2006. “Badfish” is a great song, NUFAN’s arrangement is excellent, and it features some of Tony’s finest singing. Years after it was released, this track has an eerie aura to it. Bradley Nowell of Sublime had been the poster boy for punk/ska geniuses gone too soon; now Tony Sly stands by his side.

The Feel Good Moment of the Album comes at the end. “Beth” shouldn’t be new to NUFAN fans as it was the secret track on Making Friends, but on Rarities it is that much more effective. As the Kiss cover song comes to an end on this posthumous No Use For A Name release, the band refuses to stop and instead breaks into the main guitar riff of NUFAN’s greatest song “Soulmate” (if this doesn’t give you chills, you’re dead inside) before the ensemble disintegrates, giving way to a final rendition of “Gene and Paul I Hate You Most of All”.

NUFAN fans rejoice – the title implies that there will be at least a second volume. There is also talk of a boxed set, a video documentary, and even a No Use and Friends tour. I want all of this to happen and I want it to happen NOW! But I’ll wait, even if I can’t wait.

4 / 5 Stars



Album Review: Green Day “Greatest Hits: God’s Favorite Band”

I never much got into Frenzal Rhomb, so last year when Fat Wreck Chords released a Frenzal Rhomb “best of” album, I gladly picked it up. I’ve come to embrace “best of” albums, retrospectives, and anthologies. I always like the Frenzal Rhomb songs I heard on Fat compilations, etc., but for some reason that never translated into album purchases. Suckers like me who still pay for music can’t own every album by every band. So rather than go broke buying Frenzal Rhomb’s entire back catalog, or kill myself researching which of their albums is The Absolute Best One To Own, now I’ve got thirty-three of their self-professed best songs covering twenty years, and a pretty good idea of what The Rhomb is all about.

Green Day is different. Green Day is a household name. Like most punk fans my age, Green Day was the first punk band I ever listened to, this before I’d even heard the term “punk” referring to a musical genre. I haven’t considered Green Day one of my top five favorite bands since middle school, but I still own everything they’ve put out. Now they’ve put out a greatest hits album with twenty-one songs I already own, and one brand new song. Why buy it? Because I’ve been buying Green Day albums for twenty-three years. Habits die hard.

Songs missing from Greatest Hits: God’s Favorite Band include “J.A.R.”, “Geek Stink Breath”, “Walking Contradiction”, “Nice Guys Finish Last”, “Redundant”, “Waiting”, and “Macy’s Day Parade” – all of which were considered “Superhits” back in 2001 – as well as “Maria”, “Let Yourself Go”, “X-Kid”, and “Revolution Radio”, among others that were released as singles but not popular enough to make the cut. Green Day has had a lot of hits.

As noted, this is Green Day’s second greatest hits album, the first being the unfortunately titled International Superhits!. Billie Joe, Mike, and Tre have been fortunate to have the mainstream success few punk bands have had. They can get away with calling their “best of” album International Superhits! and Greatest Hits: God’s Favorite Band. Other bands with far fewer mainstream hits, if any, resort to naming their “best of” albums something like All The Best Songs, The Greatest Songs Ever Written (By Us), or Greatest Hit…And More.

Still, regardless of the album title, there isn’t a whole lot of variety as to how these things are organized. On both of theirs, Green Day has organized the track listings chronologically, a practice also followed by Screeching Weasel, Anti-Flag, The Who, and The Clash, to name a few. Part of me doesn’t like this as it is unimaginative and a copout – I would love to hear “Longview” mixed between “Oh Love” and “Bang Bang” – but it does give the listener an accurate overview of a band’s progression throughout its career.

The other common practice is throwing a previously unreleased song onto a greatest hits album to give the super fan who already owns everything a reason to buy it. This isn’t universally followed – Frenzal Rhomb, for instance – but more often than not some sort of rarity gets thrown on; heck, even The Beatles had an unreleased song on volumes 1 and 2 of their anthology, and John Lennon had been dead for fifteen years. These new songs are typically put either at the beginning or the very end of the album, although Strung Out took the high road and mixed in their three new songs throughout Top Contenders.

Green Day added “Back in the USA”, a brand new original song with an unoriginal title. The song is solid, upbeat, political, and is indicative of what Green Day’s purist fans want to hear: something resembling a punk song. But wait…there is also a new version of “Ordinary World”, one of Green Day’s all-time most boring songs, made slightly more interesting here with Miranda Lambert’s harmonies on top of Billie Joe’s voice; one listen to this and you’ll wonder if Green Day has gone country.

What I don’t understand is this: why not be comprehensive? Why not release something like Singles Vol. 1 and include every minor internet-only and TV soundtrack single, and then five years from now release Singles Vol. 2? I mean, “J.A.R.” is a great song.

But then, who are these albums for, anyway? Not for the super fan, clearly. No, greatest hits albums are for the casual fan, or even the new fan, like how I’ve just gotten to know Frenzal Rhomb through a retrospective. God’s Favorite Band is for the fifteen-year-old making minimum wage at McDonald’s who just heard “Still Breathing” on the radio and wonders what else the band has done since a decade before she was born.

One new song and one alternate version out of twenty-two tracks – I have mixed feelings about this as well. I won’t argue with those who call it a cheap gimmick. On the other hand, I love new music and will accept new music any way I can get it. If you’re a sucker like me who still pays money for music, is “Back in the USA” enough to blow twelve bucks on? Looks like it. I bought it, after all.

3.5/5 Stars



Album Review: Guerilla Poubelle – “La Nausée”

When I first heard that Red Scare– perhaps the best and brightest in the world of melodic punk labelship– was signing French political punks Guerilla Poubelle, I couldn’t help but think: perfect. I was taken back to my high school days, when I, a teenaged francophile, used to listen to “Mon Rat S’appelle Judas” constantly in an attempt to immerse myself in the French language while nurturing my love of gritty, catchy punk rock. A decade later and I still don’t speak French, but I do still love punk. Seeing the name Guerilla Poubelle brings me back to the good ol’ days, and the fact that it’s attached to my favorite punk label is just icing on the cake. La Nausée is as good a reintroduction as any, and along the way manages to be, uh, very bon.

If you haven’t heard Guerilla Poubelle before, you might be surprised at how familiar the keywords happen to be. Raw, aggressive, throaty, melodic, catchy, pop punk, political. Think of all the stuff that grew out of Gainesville, the gravel inflected punk with the big choruses. Chunkier and less spritely than Against Me!, harder and less emo than Radon. As political as Propagandhi but nowhere near as musically ambitious. They sound like Dead Bars, if Dead Bars sang about existentialism and laid off the pure rock ‘n roll worship. Guerilla Poubelle is loud, fast, and philosophical.

It goes to say, this is a tough album to review. Despite my lifelong interest in the language and culture, I do not speak French in any actual productive way, so the lyrics are mostly lost on me. The bits and pieces I can understand (or glean from the titles/google translate) point to a rabble-rousing politi-punk album steeped heavily in Sartre’s existentialism. A short trek to their bandcamp page shows the band explaining (in English) the inspirations for their songs. Opening track, “Je ne possède que mon corps,” which translates to “I have only my body,” was inspired directly by a passage from Sartre’s La Nausée. Others were created in response to speeches by French president Emmanuel Macron, and others, like “Identité rigide” are more personal– but still very political– exploring the crushing weight of gender expectations. Reading through what the band has to say about their own music points to a group very aware and adept at finding their muses through current events. As a literature nerd, I find La Nausée especially interesting– to see a group name their album after a book by Sartre is weird, cool, and maybe even a little  pretentious, but I can’t help but be charmed by it. Guerilla Poubelle are the bohemian artist-types that have been sadly missing from the shout-along punk world. The heady subject matter and lit pedigree make the songs feel like heavier, more intensely intimate creations.

But make no mistake, La Nausée has bangers. Yeah, it’s a smart punk album about how the world is going to shit, but it’s doing it through some straight up punk anthems. First track “Je ne possède que mon corps,” starts with nothing but  some guttural vocals and a persistently strummed chord. Soon, the drum and bass come in, and then the backing vocals, and when it all comes together, it’s easy to imagine the kind of singalongs that happen on Guerilla Poubelle’s home turf. “Ceux Qui Ne Sont Rien” maintains the momentum with a big gang vocaled chorus, and “Identité rigide” brings the mosh. My favorite song on La Nausée comes late in the album, titled “Les fils et les filles des sorcières que vous n’avez pas brûlées.” An incredibly badass title, translated to: “The Sons and Daughters of the Witches You Didn’t Burn.” In the band’s own words, the song “…is a tribute to the feminists who fought for women’s rights. There is a reference to the “Manifesto of the 343 Sluts”, a statement signed in 1971 by 343 notable women admitting publicly that they had an abortion when it was still illegal in France, exposing themselves to criminal penalty of course. It was followed by a manifesto signed by doctors claiming “We want freedom of abortion. It is entirely the woman’s decision. We reject any entity that forces her to defend herself, perpetuates an atmosphere of guilt, and allows underground abortions to persist” This led to the abolition of criminal prosecution for voluntarily terminating a pregnancy.” It’s a great idea for a song, but before even knowing it’s context, I was taken away by the strength of its gang vocaled melody. Even without the translation, it sounds like a rallying cry in a world that could take a little more rallying.

If there’s one thing I love, it’s punk albums that feel conceived. There’s a lot of rock ‘n roll out there that comes together as a collection of individual songs, written to be written and nothing more. With La Nausée, there is purpose. It feeds on ideas, as well as personal experience, to create art that has been forged in the fires of political strife. When we talk about art imitating life, or life imitating art, we talk about them like they are simply mirrors of each other. As if they are two distinct elements of existence that can’t aspire to anything more than reflection. With La Nausée, I feel those mirrors melting, intertwining. It’s a punk album as concerned with ideas as Sartre or Camus– the writers who fit their philosophies onto the bones of novels, now being referenced by a punk band who fit their ideas onto the bones of an album. It’s the marriage of art and life, as well as a celebration of intertextuality. In the end, whichever La Nausée you prefer, I think we can all agree there’s only one with which we could singalong.

4/5 Stars



Album Review: Tim Barry – “High On 95”

Tim Barry seems to age like a fine wine. The new record, High On 95, brings a softer more laid back Tim Barry; the same thought out lyrics we’re used to, but with a softer delivery. There’s a good balance of folk with just a tinge of punk angst.

When comparing this to past albums you can hear the maturity come through in the songwriting and delivery. It is a good testament to Barry’s growth as a solo artist. The track “O&DP” gives us the catchy punk driven sound we love Tim Barry for. The lyrics “I do a lot of walkin’ and thinkin’, it never really makes much sense. If you’re wantin’ to talk you’ll have to wait till I’m done thinkin'” just sort of resonate. With an underlying punk attitude but delivered in a more mature refined manner it’s a place where punk meets sophistication. Likewise, the same could be said of “Riverside”, whose fairly aggressive lyrics are delivered in a soothing calm way that sounds perfect coming from Tim Barry.

All in all, in this writers opinion this is a great listen. Top to bottom it’s a well written album, every song tells a story. The music behind each story slides along like butter on a warm skillet. High On 95 delivers a softer but more complete and mature Tim Barry. It’s a perfect album for a warm fall day; do yourself a favor and give it a listen.

High on 95 was released September 8th via Chunksaah Records. Get yours here.

4/5 Stars



Album Review: Direct Hit!/ Pears – “Human Movement”

Splits are an underrated release. Too often they get lumped in as inessential marketing tools, rather than legitimate installments in two band’s sagas. They’re overshadowed by full-lengths, but make no mistake, a good split has the potential to go down as a classic. Think of the iconic Faith/Void release from Dischord, or all of those amazing BYO Records releases (especially the Leatherface/ Hot Water Music one)– there’s a rich history in regards to the punk rock split and it offers a unique experience. This is the place where bands can try new things and experiment, and maybe that’s just because of the nature of the split, but the truth is: sometimes it’s easiest to be weird when you think no one’s looking.

Human Movement is split between pop punk darlings Direct Hit! and nouveau-skate animals Pears. Their common language is hardcore and choruses– the former that encroaches on Direct Hit!’s sugary concept albums, and the latter that punctuates Zach Quinn’s machine-gun bursts of syllables. Together, they bring together both and play off each others strengths, making Human Movement one of those rare splits that can follow the conversation between Green Star and Brainless God.

Direct Hit! opens Human Movement with the hardcore banger “You Got What You Asked For.” While Direct Hit! has always been adept at the genre, usually throwing one or two screamers in per album, here they deliver on the intensity– with quick stabs of guitar, high tempo drums, and pissed-to-hell vocals. Immediately proceeding, in a moment of minor perfection, they switch gears into the opening of the next song, “Blood on Your Tongue,” with sugary sweet bell synth and pop punk melodies. It’s one of those tangible moments on the Direct Hit! side of Human Movement where you can see the fun the bands are having, and as the record spins, it becomes infectious– from the big melodies of “Open Your Mind,” the new classic “Shifting the Blame,” and their cover of Pears’ “You’re Boring.”

The latter deserves special attention, as one of the best parts of any split is hearing the bands cover each other songs. Direct Hit! attacks “You’re Boring” with so much gusto, you’d swear they were trying to claim it for their own. It stays pretty close to the original, with the biggest difference being some extra pop punk zeal on the chorus. To close out their side of the split, Direct Hit! strike straight hardcore again with “Nothing,” a fast shout-along track with an intense and dreamy bridge.

Pears open their half with “Hey There, Begonia.” It’s on the catchier side of their core sound, with the same fast moving riffs you’d expect and an interpolation of System of a Down’s “Chop Suey.” Again, Human Movement is about bands having fun, and they work it into the bones of their music.

“Mollusk’s Mouth” is a faster song with a lighting fast harmonized lyric section that caught my ear. It alludes to one of the best things about Pears– their creativity and ambition in punk rock is so often realized through the collective talent of their members. These guys can play, they can sing, and they can write songs like no other. Riffs fly, vocal rhythms change from hardcore spitting to soaring melodies, but it never leaves the realm of adult playtime. In “Misery Conquers the World” they incorporate “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor” with a chorus of children booing. Pears is the sound of goofing off.

Pears cover Direct Hit!’s “The World Is Ending” off Brainless God— well, kinda. What they do is actually a lot cooler. They meld in “Buried Alive,” the other hit from Brainless God as well as Masked Intruder’s “Heart-Shaped Guitar.” It’s surprising, weird, and hilarious, and shows Pears in all their glory– showing off and having a little fun. “Never Now” opens with some heavy-ass dissonance before transforming into the sort of thing the band is primarily known for: fast flying lyrics and a singalong chorus. It differentiates itself with the chugging breakdown, showing Pears once again swallowing up more genre influences like a fat and hungry punk rock anaconda.

Human Movement is the sort of the split you want to see released. How often do you get two high profile bands doing this sort of thing anymore? Not very often. Both Pears and Direct Hit! represent the finest of a certain kind of modern punk, established acts who continue to take risks and try and make their music as interesting as possible, all while playing in the chords and melody sandbox. Human Movement is a testament to catchy-punk devotees, a monument to all the wonderful things you can do with rhythm, melody, and words. But, it is also fun, plain and simple. Pears and Direct Hit! play well together, but when they compete, they both win.

4.5/5

 



Album Review: Darius Koski – “What Was Once Is By And Gone”

When Darius Koski released his debut solo album, Sisu, on Fat Wreck Chords a couple of years ago, I remember thinking that even though it was the longtime Swingin’ Utters and Filthy Thieving Bastards guitarist and principle songwriter’s first album under his own name, it nevertheless seemed like it was a quintessentially “Darius Koski” album, full of the sort of neo-folk/Americana rooted non-traditional punk rock left turns that made the Utters and the Bastards unique in their own regards. It was solid, and different from the Utters for sure, but not THAT different to leave people confused.

What Was Once Is By And Gone, released last Friday (November 3rd, also on Fat), pushes the genre-bending theme to newer and bolder and more diverse levels. Sure there are still some Americana-based elements that would have fit nicely on Sisu; album-opener “Black Sheep” and the slow burning “Old Bones,” for example. That fact that stands to reason given that like on his debut album, the bulk of What Was Once Is By And Gone was culled from two decades of songs and song ideas Koski had in the bankThere are a handful of tracks like “Yes I Believe” and “The Observer” that seem to pay direct homage to the uptempo chugging, reverb-heavy rockabilly freight train that Johnny Cash perfected a half-century ago.

But then, of course, there are the more conceptual pieces that make What Was Once Is By And Gone not only stand apart from Sisu, but truly shine in its own right. “Imitation Tala” has has an acoustic backbone that, combined with Koski’s subdued drone, give the track a “world music” feel that reminds me of the band Three Fish, itself a side project for Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament a couple decades ago. “Stay With Me” and it’s whistle-driven melody evokes a sort of melodramatic cowboy waltz. “Another Man” might be the most straight-forward, Tim Barry-esque acoustic songwriter track that cuts deeply in its emotionally honest tale of introspection and self-doubt.

What Was Once Is by And Gone also contains a few instrumental tracks, though to they are really more vignettes than truly songs. “Tangled Chords” is a brief  hodgepodge of reverb guitar,, spoken word voice-over, and what appears to be the sound of somebody hammering a nail. “A Little Buzz” is bright and hopeful. “A Version” sounds a bit like a sad, blue carnival with it’s weaving trumpet and synthesizer melodies. The repetitive, staccato piano undertones of “Soap Opera” give the track a haunting quality that evokes feelings of a movie score. In fact, all four of the vignettes do a good job of evoking different, movie score style feelings, and that’s not an accident, as Koski has expressed an interest in dipping his toes in that water in the future.

After a relatively busy post-comeback period a few years ago (three albums in four years), things have been quiet on the new music front from the Swingin’ Utters for a little while now. And while there aren’t traditional punk tunes present on What Was Once Is By And Gone, it serves as a welcome addition to the Koski catalog and hopefully offers him enough of a repertoire to make a go at the solo artist route alongside his normal Utters duties.

4/5 Stars

 

 

 



Album Review: Joy Opposites – “Find Hell”

When the legendary Japanese post-hardcore band FACT disbanded at the end of 2015, the members split into two amazing groups, on one end there’s SHADOWS continuing on a similar sound to FACT, and the other is the more rock oriented Joy Opposites. From their debut album SWIM in 2016, Joy Opposites have found comfort and a sound of their own, and now in their second album Find Hell the band has solidified that sound, whilst exploring out even further.

Find Hell‘s opening track “Blind Dogs” starts with the sound of a tuning radio, before the guitar comes crashing in, a heavy drum beat in the background, before washing into Adam Graham (vocals & guitar) singing softly. The track is an amazing place to start, and forms into a dark base for the rest of the album. Lines such as “… and we wait too long, until we notice that there’s something wrong, with everything and anything” set up an environment of uncertainty, a state where everything isn’t as it should be, which is what the album focuses in on.

There’s some fantastic imagery used in the lyrics throughout Find Hell, from “Your halo has lost it’s shine” in “Head Full of Tongues” to “Cut off my feet my friend, I won’t be running when the sleep comes calling” in “Sleep.” To perfectly compliment Adam’s (and occasionally backing from Imran) vocals flowing from soft words to yelling out, the instruments dip and crest in time, the band all able to accentuate their own individuality on the tracks. The tracks on Find Hell use some interesting sound design and combine different elements to sound complicated at times, but always flowing smoothly, all the pieces falling into place.

“Either/Or” is certainly a standout track which highlights the growth coming into Find Hell, being a much calmer and more melancholic song. “I still believe, I hear them say, what’s done is done, it doesn’t matter anyway,” The track comes as a calm in the center of the album, a contemplative midpoint that feels like the sort of thing you’d lay down and stare at the sky listening to. The track transitions into “Cinnamon,” which starts out at the same level but kicks things back up a bit as it goes on. Then there are tracks such as “Acid Kiss” and “Head Full of Tongues” that place themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum to “Either/Or,” up tempo tracks with an anger and determination behind them. “Acid Kiss” is another one of those standout tracks that I’m sure I’ll be singing along to in my head for weeks, from that opening riff to when the chorus crashes in, to the powerful wind down at the end. A beautiful balance can be found on the final track, the one to see us out, “Good Luck.” Gravity lets us go as the track fades out, capping off a phenomenal album.

Eiji Matsumoto’s creative drumming combined with Tomohiro Takayasu’s always impressive bass provide the perfect base to each track on the album, complimented with both Adam Graham and Imran Siddiqi on guitar pounding out the beats that range from spacey and atmospheric to fast, hard, and loud. Whilst SWIM found their footing and built a base for the Joy Opposites sound, Find Hell shows their very capable range as the band plays with some unique elements and effects. Find Hell shines out in the dark night it places the listener in, with tracks from “Sleep” to “Acid Kiss” soaring to the best the band has put out.

Find Hell is set to drop on November 8th via Hostess Entertainment, but you can listen to “Head Full of Tongues” and “Good Luck” now below.



Brand New: Science Fiction

Regrets, I’ve had a few. Like back in 2005 when I went to see Dashboard Confessional in Washington DC. I remember people going nuts about the tour and stating that the openers could not be missed. People that have seen a lot of shows usually try to catch the openers because you never know when you might stumble upon the next… Brand New. Well, obvi I wanted to see D/C. Don’t judge! I also really wanted to catch Rooney, for some reason. When we arrived at the venue, I had to get my gameface on, they weren’t allowing beer in the auditorium. You had to drink outside. As I sat there sipping my Heineken, sounds leaked out from under the door; sounds being made by Brand New. All the kids were milling about in their bright red “Brand Nizzle” T-shirts. I thought about buying one. Haven’t seen one like it since, couldn’t even find it today on a Google image search. I think that some of those sounds leaking from under the door made it into my ears, and into my brain. When I finally broke down and bought Deja Entendu, the first listen was like being reunited with an old friend. I had DE on 24/7 for a few months and then I had to ration it out a bit. I grabbed a copy of Your Favorite Weapon which helped to scratch the itch. Then came TDAGARIM, Daisy. I’ve seen them quite a few times since then and they always bring the house down. I wish I could go to that auditorium in 2005, see them play their new stuff off of Deja Entendu. Unfortunately, sometimes you just don’t get a second chance.

So where are we? 2017? In 2005, Donald Trump was in his third season of the Apprentice, “You’re Fired” reverberated through the country as the catchphrase of the day. Now Donald Trump is President of the United States. Back in 2005 it seemed we were on the upswing. Having made it through Y2K and 9/11, the future looked bright. Today, although unemployment is at an all-time low and the stock market is at an all-time high, a lot of people are angry, the hatred and anger flowing out into the streets. This country has evolved, some might say devolved, and we need voices that can provide sanity and consolation to the disaffected masses. Back in 2005, Jesse Lacey was touring on a record that had just begun to scratch the surface of the deeper thoughts in his head. What does he have to say in 2017? Can he and his mates in Brand New provide some solace in these maddening times?

I guess I’m not the only one looking for comfort right now as Science Fiction debuted at number one on the Billboard Chart, Brand New’s first number one record; proving the masses have not completely gone mad. I’ve had the album on heavy rotation for the last month. My quick thoughts are that it’s eminently listenable. The 60 or so minutes just seem to fly by. I remember an interview in which Lacey said that this record will go in a direction Brand New could have gone in rather than the one that led them to Daisy. Science Fiction certainly eschews the trademark screams and call-and-response choruses for more introspective and mature deliveries. Mike Sapone, long time Brand New collaborator, does an exceptional job manning the boards. Brand New just sounds fuller on this record; every track on the board has something going on. Science Fiction rewards the repeat listener with new subtle nuances. I really get the feeling that Brand New and Sapone spent time crafting this record, they use discordant noises, overdubbed soundbites (a la Lacey’s BAE The Smiths), Keys, and even background singers. It’s almost as if BN had gone back to the 70s and created a record like Kansas or Pink Floyd.

The album opens with a bizarre recording of a woman in psychotherapy. She’s discussing a dream where she’s at a convention feeling out of place. She concludes, “While I don’t mind having all this going on inside of me, it’s sort of–I think I’m going to be relieved when it’s over, when I can sort of settle back down.” Brand New spends the rest of the album echoing these sentiments in one form or another. Lit Me Up almost sounds like it could have been on TDAGARIM. It reminds me of Sowing Season a bit. When Lacey drops the line “You lit me up like a witch in a puritan town,” he demonstrates that he hasn’t lost his penchant for turning a clever phrase. Track two, Can’t get it out, opens with a strummed acoustic guitar, another recurring theme on Science Fiction. In fact, I think there is an acoustic guitar somewhere on every track. This song will definitely please the Brand New purists and represents the most traditional Brand New-sounding song on the record. Waste comes next, and I’m getting the Kansas vibes here as Lacey drones over acoustic and feedback, “Every night you were tripping out. In the morning you were coming down. If it’s breaking your heart, if nothing is fun. Don’t lose hope, my son. This is the last one.” Is he talking about life on the road as a musician? Is he foreshadowing the end of Brand New? I’m catching a lot of Smiths on Could Never be Heaven, it reminds me of Back to the Old House, although CNBH is a beautiful tune in its own right. Same Logic/Teeth will also please the purists, and we even get some screams here too!! But there is something untraditional about the Sergeant Peppers-esque goofy line “At the bottom of the ocean fish won’t judge you by your faults.” Beautiful and powerful encapsulate my thoughts of Science Fiction and the next song 137. “Let’s all go play Nagasaki, we can all get vaporized.” Lacey sounds defeated, as if he is resigned to the fact that the system can’t be changed and he’s embraced his fate of turning to ash. This song resonates with me in our current political climate where the system seems to have failed us and the only thing we can hope for is a quick and painless end. It could also be construed as an odd allegory on the end of Brand New.

Did I mention the 70s vibe? Out of Mana brings some serious funk feels by using a wah pedal and some kind of synthesized chorus inspired by Boston. In the Water sticks with the 70s mojo, this could be America or the Eagles. Stripped down acoustic, slide acoustic, electric piano, harmonica, it’s a trip! Desert throws some blues in there with a riff that would make Keith Richards jealous, they also stole the Stones backup singers!!! “Don’t come running to me, when they’re coming for you.” Remember Neil Young singing “Tin Soldiers and Nixon’s coming…” No Control brings the nostalgia trip to an abrupt halt. The booming reverbed-out bass hearkening back to the traditional Brand New. 451 does a great job melding the whole blues-come-Brand New sound into one song. The record closes with Batter Up, fans might think Tautou, this tune does conjure up thoughts of the sounds and themes of Deja Entendu. If this is how Brand New closes out it’s career, it’s fitting, “It’s never going to stop. Batter up. Give me your best shot. Batter up.”

Is this the end of Brand New? I think the cryptic messages coming from Lacey and Crew suggested 2018 as their last year. The songs on Science Fiction certainly have a somber tone and there are many allusions to the end, be it “this is the last one” or “Let’s all go play Nagasaki.” If they do call it quits after SN, they will certainly be going out on a high note. For all fans of Brand New, I assume you already have this record on heavy rotation. It is most definitely in my ten best of 2017. With sabers rattling around the world and a demagogue with his finger on the button, might as well float off into oblivion to the sweet sounds of Brand New’s Science Fiction.

5/5 Stars



Album Review: The Riptides – “Canadian Graffiti”

The Riptides, Canada’s answer to The Queer’s. The Boys from the nations capital are back with a little taste of surfer pop-punk Canada style. I’ll admit I have a soft spot for The Riptides. I grew up in a small town outside of Ottawa and we didn’t have bands tour our town, but fortunately for us we had The Riptides. Coming to play for 20 or 30 kids at the local youth center probably didn’t seem like much at the time but 20 years later there’s a whole generation of small town punks who saw them as their introduction to a live punk rock show.

Without a doubt Canadian Graffiti is a testament to the awesomeness that is old school surfer pop-punk. Songs like “Goodbye Hawaii” and “Waterloo” are throwbacks to bands like The Queers and the Ramones. Simple riffs mixed with witty, sarcastic lyrics are what made this Dying Scenester fall in love with punk to begin with. It’s not all surfer punk though, if you dig a more heavy, angry sound. Tracks like “Whimpy Goes to Washington” and “Homing Missle” fill the void. Slightly more distorted guitars with a grungier lyric delivery, it’s a good contrast to the bouncy surfer jams.

The Riptides even get Bif Naked to sing a tune on the new album. “Someone Just Like You” was a particularly good track, the contrast between Andy’s throaty singing and Bif Naked’s lovely growl is a perfect mix. As with every Riptides album there’s a ton of comedy. I particularly enjoyed “Get Out Of My Dreams, Get Into My Tardis” as well as the throwback “Beam Me Up”. Anyone whose followed the Riptides from the start will remember “The Creature that Ate My Brain”, the song “Beam Me Up” brings you back to those early days of The Riptides, fun, punk music.

If nothing else The Riptides are fun music, it comes through in their lyrics, it’s no doubt helped this band carve out a 20 year career. They have fun, they don’t take themselves too seriously, it’s what makes Canadian punk music great. Without a doubt my favorite Riptides album to date. Top to bottom this album cuts the mustard, a good mix of heavy, surf, pop-punk, comedy and honesty are what make this album great. All in all I give this album 4.5 stars it’s without a doubt the best Riptides album to date, and is a world away from the California Reamin’ years.

Canadian Graffiti was released via Something To Do Records and you can scoot on over here to get yours.

 



Album Review: Human Kitten – “Velvet Waltz”

Human Kitten, the project of Ocean City, Maryland based folk punk artist Elijah Llinas, last released a 16 track album titled I’m Afraid of Everything on October 31, 2016 and hinted that it may be the last release under the Human Kitten moniker. But there was certainly more to be said, a detailing of the relatable grey state of youth shadowed by mental illness in the form of Velvet Waltz.

Originally this release was planned to be a duo of companion EPs, playing off each other and showing two sides of things. This core idea is still present in the mirroring of the album, such as “Stuck Neverlasting” to “Luck Everlasting.” The latter presents a similar state of mind, but swings to a more positive outlook and the feeling of change within reach. Two other companion tracks “Bedroom at Midnight” and “Living Room at Noon” mirror each other in structure. “Bedroom” starts out as a slow and melancholic look at life and builds into an angry determination, whilst “Living Room” starts as upbeat but still vitriolic and moves down into that depressively real side.

The strong vocals followed by a shaky voice barely holding it together perfectly encapsulate the emotions behind the album. The wails of ‘Nothing at all‘ on “Sensory Deprivation” and ‘…a person who you truly believe has earned love‘ on “Living Room at Noon” show a growth in Elijah’s vocals, and the togetherness of the release show his growth as a songwriter. The album has an overall theme of youth and depression, stagnation and realization, growth and loss, and feels like a natural progression from I’m Afraid of Everything with a more cohesive structure.

Velvet Waltz is a look into a relatable depression in the modern day, everyday life, and an occasional lighthearted take on metaphor within a darker construction. Elijah covers everything from social expectations to introversion and video games, with a lot of incredibly well fitting lines such as ‘24 years old I’m still afraid of the telephone.’ The album has some Ghost Mice vibes in the power and the instrumentals, albeit with less tempo, but on a personal level rather than the societal level Ghost Mice discuss frequently.

Overall a more melancholic mood surrounds the album than other Human Kitten releases, with moments of biting anger and pits of crushing dejection. An emotive folk-punk experience that’s just as easy to relate to as it is to sing along, a story of mental illness, introversion, and the desire to grow beyond that and find a better place to stand.

Velvet Waltz is set to be released on October 31st, but you can listen to the first track “Stuck Neverlasting” below to get ready, and pre-order the album digitally on the Human Kitten Bandcamp page.



Album Review: The Lillingtons – “Stella Sapiente”


11 years is a long time in the music industry. For many bands, it is an entire lifetime, but for The Lillingtons it was just an opportunity to gather strength. For years, The Lillingtons flew just beneath the general radar with a rabid cult-following…until now. Stella Sapiente sees the band gather their acolytes in a campaign for hearts, minds, souls and the domination of the earth.

The dark and otherworldly echoes of “Golden Dawn/Knights Templar” open the album, with lush guitars reverberating into the shadows: equal parts dark ritual and signals from another world. Vocalist and guitarist Kody Templeman paints an aural picture of mystery, that bleeds seamlessly into “Insect Nightmares’. Buzzsaw crunch gives way to a dueling guitar riff Ronnie James Dio would solemnly flash an approving pair of horns at.

The retro vibe continues with “Night Visions”. Deep chorus effects evoke a dark-wave feel, while the gothic horror of the lyric “recurring nightmares cloud my mind, eradication of mankind” weave a Lovecraftian atmosphere of intrigue and foreboding. The band then powers into “K6” and “Zodiac”, more up-tempo, driving tracks. “Pursuit of Pleasure” has one of the most fun choruses I have heard in a while: simple and inescapable like a black hole.

“London Fog” opens with a riff and tone that evoke The Misfits “London Dungeon” with reverence, without feeling like a lift. “Cult of Dagon” is a dis-harmonic, synth powered acid trip followed by “Villagers” and “The Walker”: tracks that maintain the macabre atmosphere while revving the intensity and beats per minute back up. “They Live” shows the band at its absolute best: galloping drums leading scorching guitars in a harmonic race into the unknown. Dual guitars rip into leads that would bring Thin Lizzy to tears. The album closes with the same speed and strength with punk rock/80’s metal hybrid “Drawing Down the Star”, then fades out enigmatically.

Just from the opening riffs of Stella Sapiente, you quickly appreciate the band’s evolution as musicians from their Ramones-core origins. Effects are used to establish mood and emphasize the music brilliantly. The album radiates a dark, mysterious energy while keeping the speed and seriousness of The Too Late Show. This record may be The Lillingtons crowning achievement to date: showcasing a band at the peak of its songwriting ability pushing its own boundaries. This record isn’t a reinvention, its an evolution. My only real complaint is the length: like a dream, the record is over before you’re ready to wake up.

Stella Sapiente is available now through Fat Wreck Chords.

5/5 Stars



Album Review: Coffee Project – ‘Wasted Love’

If you’re not familiar with Coffee Project, let me give you a quick introduction. The duo hail from Gainesville and include Buddy from Less Than Jake and Jake who used to be in Rehasher. Imagine catchy and fast pop punk on an acoustic guitar, then add a trombone. Then imagine that every terrible band you’ve ever heard try something like this wasn’t terrible and were actually awesome. That’s basically Coffee Project. Their bandcamp says they “play upbeat catchy singalong acoustic songs that feel more like a punk rock show and less like a coffee shop gig” and that description is pretty accurate it seems.

That said, Coffee Project is truly one my favorite bands I feel I don’t hear enough from. Their new 7”, Wasted Love, which is out now on A-F Records (the label owned by Anti-Flag) comes off as a simple break up record upon seeing the artwork and hearing the title track. But I’m not sure that’s a fair analysis.

See, what I like about this record is that it reflects a breakup from multiple angles, not just the direct heartbreak and sad songs. It talks about frustration with social media, handling anxiety, and how the rest of the world may be perceived from someone who has just lost love, not just one’s inner feelings of grief.

It’s not my favorite thing the band has ever done, but there’s not a ton for me to analyze with only four short songs. They do a good job, as usual, of combining folk elements with punk energy without sounding like a typical folk punk band. It doesn’t feel like a release I can compare to their others, it just sounds like a continuation of what Coffee Project does.

Regardless, I’m going to give this a 3.5/5, (can I give them a 75%? C?) but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. I just wish it was longer and I had more to digest.

Go see Coffee Project at Fest this year, you won’t regret it. Listen to Wasted Love below, and please consider supporting the band and label.



Album Review: Sinai Vessel – “Brokenlegged”

I’m guessing most of you folks have heard of the Fest in Gainesville, Florida. Well I’m going this year and I’ve begun my prep work. As I listen to the bands that are slated to play, I’m struck by two things: 1. How could I not have heard of X band? 2. I definitely have to see X band. If I had the ability to split into multiple versions of myself like Ash in Army of Darkness, it would come in very handy from Oct 27-29. Alas, since I lack this gift, I’m going to have to make some tough decisions. One band that I’ve got underlined, circled and highlighted is Sinai Vessel. Once again, how have I never heard of these guys? For the others of the uninitiated, I’d describe SN thusly: If Ben Gibbard (Death Cab and Postal Service), Justin Pierre (Motion City Soundtrack), and Chris Crisci (Appleseed Cast) were fused together by a mad scientist and decided to form a Superchunk-inspired indie rock band. Sinai Vessel hails from North Carolina. Helmed by singer/songwriter Caleb Cordes, SN began as a project of his with a revolving cast of musicions. For Brokenlegged, Cordes has rounded out Sinai Vessel with a permanent bass (Daniel Hernandez) and drums (Joshua Herron).

Looseleaf kicks off the record and it pretty much exemplifies what the band is all about. A subtle arpeggio and strings arrangement gives way to noisy guitars and earnest vocals. I tried to categorize these guys as Indie, rather than break out the E word, just to save Sinai Vessel from being cast into the Emo Abyss; but Indie’s not a choice anymore. You’ll definitely catch the E vibe on Looseleaf though. Seriously if track one doesn’t make you a Sinai Vessel fan, then they are not for you. It’s a standout track on a record full of them. Ramekin slides in next and doesn’t vary the formula too much. Argeggio, jumpy beat, catchy. The subdued vocal style used by Cordes on this one drives home the Death Cab comparisons. Laughlin keeps the hits coming using the style that makes the entire record cohesive, no punches pulled here. Down with the Hull, Dogs, and Birthblood don’t vary from the formula that perfectly soothes what ails you. When the vocals kick in on Died on my Birthday, try to keep I’ll follow you into the dark out of your head. THIS IS A DIFFERENT SONG!! Typically the acoustic gear-shift song comes in last, just to send the record out on a mellow note. Not so on Brokenlegged. Sinai Vessel brings Cork of Worry last, a mellow tune, but with a sinister backbone.

I think this album caught me at a vulnerable moment because when I heard it, my heart felt like it was going to float out of my body. After many listenings, it stands up pretty well. Brokenlegged definitely popped into my top 10 of 2017 and, as mentioned earlier, Sinai Vessel is underlined, highlighted and circled on my Fest schedule. I’m ticking off the days ‘til Oct 27.

4.5/5 Stars



Album Review: Question Tuesday – “We Don’t Want What You’re Selling”

Anyone who knows me knows my taste follows the orbit laid out by Hot Water Music, Leatherface, and other aggro-melodic sad sack punk planets. I like some gravel, I like some distortion. I like post-hardcore when it goes full circle from breaking down the blank verse of hardcore and taking it to the rhymes and meter of traditional songwriting. Catchy, loud, powerful– that’s what I’m into. Question Tuesday are a satellite on a similar trajectory. Local to Portland, OR, worshiping at the altar of Leatherface, with an EP called We Don’t Want What You’re Selling.

Their sound is heavy riffs, beat-to-shit skins, trilling leads, and broken glass vocals. They run the line between shouted urgency and full throated singalongs. Six songs of punk rock that hearkens back to an era of growth, post revolution summer, as emocore and post-hardcore grew and adapted from their early scenes into the stuff that filled the rosters of No Idea Records before the turn of the millenia.

“Bring It Down” opens the EP with a riff that alternates between chugged power chords and the aforementioned trilling leads, punctuated with a charged vocal attack. “Black & Blue” features a busy guitar line beneath its verse that shows Question Tuesday playing with the basics of punk songwriting by not relying entirely on chord progressions to drive their songs. In fact, one of things I like the most about We Don’t Want What You’re Selling is that their leads are prominent as in the style of the genre, but never as an impersonation of it. Hot Water Music and Leatherface both have a pretty unique sound to their approach of lead guitar, but Question Tuesday takes their own way rather than copying what the other guys are known for. Their sound is a bit more straight rock ‘n roll, more rooted in melody, different enough to carve out their own identity.

There’s even some shades of 90s Epitaph here, with “Writing on the Walls’” frenetic double-time drumming near the middle of the song. The EP ends with “See a Glow,” which has a sort of dreamy pace, even with its thick guitar distortion. It contains some confessional lyricism like, “It’s alright to fall to pieces,” but the track isn’t as dynamic as I’d like and it’s run time is felt more than it should be.

We Don’t Want What You’re Selling is a strong release from a young band. Minor missteps are easy to forgive in a six-song EP, especially in one that so earnestly walks in the shoes of a sound out-of-vogue. Question Tuesday aren’t really reinventing anything here, but they aren’t stagnating it either– just using it as a springboard for self-expression. It’s where we all start, and for fans of the style, it’ll be interesting to see where Question Tuesday goes.

 

3.5/5



Album Review: Throw – “Real, Real Nice”

I saw Portland’s Throw open for Alone in Dead Bars (the solo version of Dead Bars). I’d heard a couple songs off their bandcamp and had a couple people say Real, Real Nice was a pretty damn good record. So, I went, I watched, I nodded along, and spent hard-earned cash on a cassette. And guess what? Yeah, Real, Real Nice was, well, basically what the title says.

Throw is a melodic punk band in the vein of Jeff Rosenstock, PUP, and a little Joyce Manor. They’re kind of hard to pin down, but if you had to apply a subgenre to them, you could probably be safe with indie punk. There’s a little emo in there too, but for the most part the songs are fast singalongs with a bit of a lo-fi aesthetic. So, put Pavement, Mom Jeans, and your favorite emotionally volatile punk singer and you might have something close to Throw. Opener “Corner Store” is filled with throat-shredding melodies and emo revival fretwork, the drums sound like firecrackers and it all coalesces into controlled demolition. Throw has energy to spare, with enough texture to their sound to hearken back to all of the bands who used punk as a springboard to greater creativity. The big choruses, driving rhythm, and instrumental sections of “The Floor” are a great example of Throw’s songcraft, continually building and releasing tension.

The songs are funny, and don’t last too long. That’s about the level of criticism you get included with a Big Mac, but it still stands. Writing songs is an art, but it takes an awareness of both what you want to do and how your audience will respond. Throw puts together quick songs with a lot of energy and some ear catching lines. My favorite track on Real, Real Nice is the finale, “Brunch Burrito,” which opens with the tattooable couplet: “I want you to cum on my face, I’ve had the worst fucking day.” Strong evidence for Throw knowing how to capture an audience’s attention.

Also, how refreshing to see a full fledged album that is just eight good songs. It surely could’ve been pushed a little further, but with this, and the aforementioned Dead Bars releasing shorter, succinct albums, I feel like this could be one of the best trends in DIY punk in years. Nothing wrong with keeping it short and sweet, and Real, Real Nice feels all the more cozy for it.

Throw is a cool band and if you like cool bands you haven’t heard of before, well, shit– you might like these guys. Twenty-something sad sack angst, riffs, twinkles, and big, meaty choruses, all delivered in an album that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. Real, Real Nice is the sort of album you hope comes out of your local scene– creative, honest, and catchy.

4/5

Listen here: