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Album Review: Sally Draper – “How is That Fair?”


Sally Draper, punk rock from Northern New Jersey, are back with How Is That Fair?, a follow-up to 2017’s Does Too. This album finds this duo continuing to explore a variety of punk rock styles in a chaotic mixture, with a little help from some friends.

How is That Fair? opens with “The War on Memes” a track that is strongly reminiscent of early Against All Authority. Blisteringly wild punk with a upstroked ska breakdown and an anti-authoritarian sneer. “The president tweets while Florida drowns, The president tweets while Vegas bleeds” they “preach to the choir” over wild guitars. This aggressive chaotic punk with catchy hooks is also on display in the next song “Unconfident in Shorts”.

It’s in the third song we start to see other influences creep into this album. “No One Writes About Baltimore (except David Simon)” has an infectious sugary sweet guitar lick that is punctuated by a raspy vocal delivery. The dichotomy between the two has a distinct early Fake Problems feel but with the distortion cranked up. This comparison gets revisited later on the album with “Luxury Mattress”

From there Sally Draper brings in an Against Me! vibe with “Moral Compass” which seamlessly drops into “Warning Sign” and “The Time I chose to go to Prague”. The first is drum heavy with a cleaner guitar delivery that is more akin to the White Crosses era AM!. “Warning Sign” has a droning guitar sound over a marching drum beat with a deeply intrinsic vocal scope. Which gives way to “The Time I Chose to go to Prague” a slow jam which tones down the chaotic vocal presentation and gives us a more jangly rock tune.

The concern with this album is the inconsistency in the vocal delivery. It is perfectly suited for the wild chaos of “The War on Memes” and “Unconfident in Shorts”, it delivers an emotional wrench in “Warning Sign” but it seems a bit forced in “The Time I Chose to Go to Prague” and does not quite hit with enough emotional intensity for the album closer “I’ll See You in My Dreams”.

It took me a few spins of How is That Fair? to get a real sense of what Sally Draper is attempting to accomplish, an intersection of chaotic anger and introspective musings where it is impossible to tell if it’s the singer or the instruments that are on the verge of a breakdown. I feel like the band is on the right track in terms of creating their unique take on punk. There are just a few inconsistencies that keep this album from truly reaching its potential.

3.5/5 Stars



Album Review: Lee Corey Oswald – “Darkness, Together”

Lee Corey Oswald - Darkness TogetherLee Corey Oswald‘s latest album is a fantastic step forward for the Portland based punk/rock act. Darkness, Together forms this particular sound of small town America, desperation, emotional loss, growing up, and dreams of something bigger. It’s an album I didn’t give the time it deserves in 2018, but truly grew to love as I listened through.

The band has put together a great sound over time, with some iconic lyrical shaping through their past releases, and that continues on for Darkness, Together. Lee Corey Oswald originated from Scranton in Pennsylvania, building themselves in the vibrant punk scene alongside bands such as Title Fight and Tigers Jaw. However after moving to Portland, they took the lifestyle and indie scene from the area and weaved influence from it into their sound. There’s an emotional urgency at times, but also contemplation and poetic strings of thought, notably within the track “Neighborhoods.” Lee Ellis, the vocalist, ponders the idea of a regular life and expectations in a suburban neighborhood, building to a beautiful delivery of “As your kids grow they’ll help in the garden, go to school, just to learn it’s not what they belong in.”

Musically the band naturally shifts through faster punk sounds and this incredibly catchy rolling flow. The first track “Asbury Waters” has a heavier sound, with more emphasis placed on each tone, and a rather deliberate delivery. This transitioning into the fuzzy and bright ‘Neighborhoods’ shows the range of the band, keeping their own flavor across their styles. Thematically they do the same, melding the different ideas they’re playing with and seamlessly flowing from one to another. There’s the idea of growing up, escaping expectations and subverting cliche to live your own life. This features across “Asbury Waters,” into a different form through “Neighborhoods,” then is placed much more firmly through “You Want To Be Right or Happy.” The tracks discuss running from the past, denying the present, and the darkness of the future.

There’s so much to identify with in the current climate, from stories of alienation in the suburbs, growing up, love and loss from friends to the bands we all cherish. ‘Desperate,’ despite the repetition of ‘You’re in love, in love, in love‘ and ‘We’re in love, in love, in love,’ subverts a love song into the idea of his love for someone, who loves another, yet they still both feel a love which gives them a togetherness in the protagonist’s mind. “Free Stuff” perfectly encapsulates a satirical presentation of how we all do what we need to get by in the modern day, whilst “Curse Words” goes back to the other side of suburban living in moving back in with your mother and helping her out.

But where all these themes so brilliantly captured come together is in the final track, “Darkness, Together (11/20/85).” The loss of a friend puts everything into perspective, and contemplating how to cope with a world that keeps moving on past you. The closing lines to the song are all too relatable, ‘And all the bands that we would talk about, if only you were still around.’ The desperation for just one more conversation on something which draws so many people together. The name of the album truly matches what it discusses, the idea of darkness, depression, and all these negative things, and how we experience it together, even if apart.

Darkness, Together was released on October 12th, 2018 via A-F Records, and can be streamed via Bandcamp here.



Album review: No Real Hero – “The Forest”

Hailing from Montreal, No Real Hero have unleashed a new EP, a follow-up to their 2014 self titled album. The Forest will have you feeling nostalgic for the early days of Fat Wreck Chords. Their brand of punk infused metal delivers a message of rebellion and heartbreak. The easiest comparison to make is Propagandhi. They are both Canadian, they both liberally use epic guitar riffage to highlight their punk sneer, and both seem intent on kick-starting a revolution.

The Forest opens with a track that seems pulled from Tron, dark and ominous with an electric pulse. This shroud is shredded by a barrage of guitar licks and a bombastic rhythm as “Comfort and Sorrow” makes it clear that this band is not here to play nice. ‘What’s good to you don’t mean shit to me’ they snarl as they lament about how people ‘Seek comfort in other people’s sorrow’.

“Broken Waters” a song about mourning the death of a child perfectly mirrors rage and despair with changes in tempo. One minute anger and swelling guitars, the next a soliloquy of despair. It’s a heartbreaking look at the helplessness felt in the mortality of someone so new to the world.

The incendiary nature of this EP shines through on “This is Home”. ‘Just watch us kids come together/we rise our fists high and strong’ is the riotous call to arms for despondent kids unsure of the rage they feel or their place in life. A song that one can only imagine would be amazing live, with all the kids that this song mentions singing along with their fists raised in solidarity.

“The Forest for the trees” provides a lush and technical display of guitar chops. Then we reach the pinnacle of the album, the closer “Red and Black” a song that explores a purposeful overdose on the part of a young girl upon the realization that her boyfriend shared her nude pictures. It’s a dark exposè on current social trends that plague our society.

The Forest is a short but intense offering from a band that takes a familiar style and completely makes it their own. This may be the only time I say this, but if they added a little more of that electronic Tron-esque sound from the opener to the rest of the album, I would not complain.

4.5 / 5 Stars



Album review: Twenty2 “Nice Knowin’ Ya”

After a decade long hiatus, Montreal’s Twenty2 are back with a new EP Nice Knowin’ Ya. Picking up where they left off, 2006’s Defective, this album is full of emo-tinged pop punk delivered with a familiar angsty sneer and melodic rage.

Nice Knowin’ Ya blasts out of the gates with “Intro(vert)”, a sub-minute explosion of frenzied guitars and intense anger. “I don’t care if you don’t get it, it’s ok if we have to end it here and now, because I have no time and alone I’m just fine” Jon yells with a sense of defiance.

Like the inevitable sense of quiet dread sets in after an explosion, the emotional side of this album kicks in after the first song. Perhaps showcasing that “alone I’m just fine” is not entirely accurate. “Won’t Hate” has distinct change of energy, stepping down the rage and giving it a melancholic feel. “I’ll never be the same without you, I know I’m better off without you, I will turn around and leave you behind” is delivered in a way that is difficult to figure out if he is talking to someone else, or attempting to convince himself. This self doubt is layered over a driving rhythm and soaring vocal melodies.

“Radio Mind” continues the punchy instrumentation and soaring melodies found throughout this album, but also double-downs on the emotional response to “Intro(vert)”. “I haven’t been here long enough, I hate to look back but it’s tough to move on” opens the song “Can’t Hold on, Can’t Let Go” who’s title alone suggests that there is a distinct sense of regret involved in the situation this album is presenting.

There are a couple of stand out tracks featuring guests. The first one being Stephen Egerton from the Descendents on “I’d Rather Die”. This song puts the anger back on display and the guitar work has a more frenzied feel. When Jon’s vocals come back in after the guitar solo there is such anger and resentment, it’s a palpable chill-inducing moment. This song definitely explores the angrily-accepted side of the emotional spectrum on display in this album.

The other guest track features Al Nolan from Canadian punk band Almighty Trigger Happy. The last and titular track “Nice Knowin’ Ya” is the perfect example of a band creating highs and lows in the exploration of emotions. The guitars are aggressive and in your face, the drums explode and make you feel every hit, the bass line driving and complementary, all of which on fire with angst but then drop off so quickly in the breakdown it’s a free fall of energy that ends with a primordial scream. The call and answer vocals, as well as the harmonies are executed perfectly. “Fuck you and everything you want from me. Got no time for anything but my need, I gave you even my own sanity, what’s left is just for me.” screamed on the verge of a breakdown shows that “Alone I’m just fine” was definitely not true.

Nice Knowin’ Ya leaves a little to be desired, I wish there were more songs like the title track and “I’d Rather Die” as some of the other songs start to blur with similarity. However this album shines because of the honest lyrical look at the feelings we all experience after an emotional fallout. The rage-fueled things we say, in a sub-one minute song, versus the depth of the feelings we experience afterwards, in five songs across fourteen minutes.

3.5/5 Stars



Album Review: Loose End (pop punk) – “Overthinking Everything I Know”

With so many pop punk bands coming out of Australia at the moment, it’s becoming harder and harder to stand out from the crowd. Loose End from Melbourne make their attempt to have an impact with their second EP ‘Overthinking Everything I Know’. The release, recorded by Chris Vernon from Belle Haven, is a follow up to their self-titled effort in 2017.

The EP opens with ‘Cracks in the Curtains’ with dropped-D crunchy riffs coming straight in followed by familiar (and welcome) chugging guitars under an upbeat verse melody. The chorus here is one of the strongest on offer from this release and almost becomes an ear-worm. The new single ‘Hiding in Someone Else‘ follows with shouting vocals that come in without warning followed by the melody. This method can work on a pop punk song but it needs to be more thought out (they would do well to listen to Senses Fail‘s song “Is It Gonna Be The Year?” from earlier in 2018).

Third track ‘Doesn’t Matter’ flows quite nicely to begin with but the chorus falls a bit flat, it feels like it is missing a big hook, in fact the best parts of the song are the ‘woahs’ after the second final choruses. ‘The Stress & The Envy’ picks things up somewhat with a bouncy riff and well thought out chorus. This is a song that could easily be found on a WSTR album (a band they unsurprisingly cite as an influence).

On ‘Identity’ Loose End push things in a slightly different direction with a somewhat heavier sound than the other tracks. Given they listen to Comeback Kid and Trapped Under Ice, it makes sense that they delve into this territory. I cannot help but feel like this song is lost in the middle, not quite working as a heavy song nor a pop punk one. Closer ‘Jordan Street‘ is the first single of the EP, and is a decent enough pop punk effort with cliched but genuine sounding lyrics, the transition from the verse to the chorus is quite impressive and shows what this band are capable of.

‘Overthinking Everything I Know’ is certainly a more interesting and enjoyable listen than their last effort. I could be wrong, but the press release simply states that they recorded the songs with Vernon, so as far as I’m aware they only engineered the release and did not produce it. I feel like the band could really do with a seasoned producer to come in and help define their sound and craft some stronger hooks. Given that this is only their second release, Loose End have time to keep pressing forward, and these skills may come with time. Their sound is still blending in too much with their pop punk peers from their home country as well as their counterparts from the US and UK. They have some way to go before they have crafted a sound as interesting as someone like Trophy Eyes (another influence they nod to).

Not so much ones to keep an eye on, more a band to keep checking up on every now and then to see how they have developed. They do, however, deserve a bonus point for not singing in a fake American accent like many other UK and Australian bands in their genre.

2.5/5 Stars



Album Review: Misgivings – “Hermitage”

Ah—to be young and punk in 2010. The Menzingers had just released Chamberlain Waits, The Flatliners brought us Cavalcade, and Make Do and Mend (remember those guys!?) were a promising newcomer with End Measured Mile. Suddenly, being influenced by Hot Water Music and Leatherface were in vogue and the result was a golden age of gravel-throated melodic punk groups. Since then, the novelty has worn off and melodic punk soldiers on in a decidedly less trendy manner—existing as simply as any other subgenre, with occasional sleeper hits and a total lack of mania surrounding them.

Misgivings from the UK remind me of that golden era. Hermitage is their new album, courtesy of Lockjack Records, and it almost reads as a tribute to the style. While I’m sure they didn’t intend to write a meta-analysis of early-aughties melodic punk, the album so earnestly delivers on its hallmarks, that at least for me, let’s me nod my head in nostalgia for a time that was eight years ago. So, you have crunching chords, noodly (yet tasteful) fretwork, melodically balanced aggression; all fronted with open-throated, plaintive vocals.

“Call it Off” opens the album with some buzzsaw chords and emo lead stylings. If there’s one style that I think might be having its current heyday, it’s emo, and as I see more and more of its tropes seep its way into proper punk, I wonder if we’re surrounded by albums that are being codified into classics as speak—future punk rock classics largely unlistened to by actual punk fans. Are we, as die-hard punk fans being left behind by our own genre because we are not keeping with the times? I don’t know, entirely, whether the genre is evolving while its getting-older sect is stagnating, but I do know this: melodic punk and emo have always been bedfellows, and they continue to merge in interesting ways, but vitally, only in one direction. Look at Mom Jeans, look at Graduating Life—these are bands on the emo forefront incorporating punk rock in interesting ways, they are big bands getting bigger. Misgivings is not  a hanger-on for playing melodic punk—emo influences or not—but it is a glimpse of the other side of the coin. Traditional punk rock, defiantly or not, is not the powerhouse it used to be. “Call it Off” is a good, anthemic song, but you have to wonder, in 2018, can a melodic punk band playing shout-along anthems truly transcend the genre ghetto?

I don’t think so, personally. But, that doesn’t mean Hermitage is a bad album. It might however mean, that melodic punk is now something of a boutique genre. A throwback in and of itself, dedicated to aging Fest-goers the same way record players and typewriters still move at thrift shops. With the state of the scene treatise out of the way, I’ll say that Misgivings are a competent band, and Hermitage does excel at what it aims to do, even if time has blunted its edge.

There is a lot of strong songwriting across the album. “The Artless Life” is a catchy barn-burner that feels almost Billy Bragg-ish in its rootsy, sarcastic call to arms. It engages in a couple of genre cliches (“everyone is singing out of tune”), but otherwise it features a strong chorus and a worthy arrangement. “The Last Word” is another album highlight. The song opens with a thumping bass line that lets the song breathe before jumping into its centerpiece lick, and in a live setting you could easily picture a crowd singing breathlessly along with, “I might be paranoid, but it’s not crazy!”

Hermitage is a solid album of singalong punk that hearkens back to when this subgenre seemingly ruled the scene. Critically, it both suffers and succeeds because of this: Misgivings is playing honest music that has been made canon years ago; but where punk has been, it also shares its DNA with where punk is going—leaving the album itself in a strange Twilight Zone. Ultimately though, this is punk rock: we’re used to not being relevant, and for those who came of age with gravel-throats and singalongs, Hermitage will feel like coming home.

3.5/5



Album review: Amber Lamps – “On the Lamb”

Astoria, NY’s Amber Lamps have released their second EP On the Lamb, which is a follow up to 2017’s Plaidypuss. The easiest label to use is pop-punk, as there is plenty of it, however it is delivered with a groovy soulful twist that makes this album stand out.

On the Lamb opens with “Wanderlust” a song that immediately grabs your attention with a hard driving intro that is reminiscent of early punks that started with a pop influence, it would not be a far stretch to see a song like this on a Green Day album. The lyrics “it still makes me happy to come back home” fit perfectly because there are a lot of bands attempting to expand the boundaries of genres and push punk to extreme limits, but it is nice to come back home to a place where punk is fast, emotionally gritty, and infectiously catchy.

This soulful and raucous style of pop-punk is further explored with songs like “Trophy Beer” and “This Just In” but perfectly nailed in the album closer “Hindered Spirits.” A small step back in the tempo opens the song up to a sound that is more akin to Hot Water Music but without the gruff. The comparison continues with more emotionally vulnerable lyrics. “I don’t have a keeper when it’s all said and done, I’m just a hindered spirit on the run. Is this a mistake, if it is, then it’s mine to make as my life goes on and on and on” is an intrinsic look into the nature of relationships. How is the singer hindered? Does the use of “spirit” imply alcohol or the fear that we are doomed to be alone as the obstructive force? Given the way the line is sung and the way “on and on” is repeated, especially in the outro, makes me believe it is the lonely nature of an empty eternity that forces the singers mistakes.

Throughout this album there is some great instrumentation at work, the shiny example of this is “Catastrophe.” Heavy bass and drum lines give it a bluesy vibe that is further accentuated by a very solid guitar solo and makes it a slow dance diversion from the rest of the album. The other deviation from their driving punk sound is the acoustic “Sola Catuli.” The song is an emotional look at the downfall of a relationship and perhaps sets the table for the mistakes and fear of being alone mentioned in “Hindered Spirits”, making it an effusive one-two punch to end the album.

Coming in at around 18 minutes long, the only real complaint is that On the Lamb is too short. It explores a groovy but gritty side of pop-punk that will certainly have you coming back for more.

4.5/5 Stars



Album review: The Casualties “Written in Blood”

Street punk stalwarts The Casualties have released their eleventh studio album, Written in Blood. This album marks the end of the Jorge Herrera era and introduces David Rodriguez from Starving Wolves as the new voice. Where both of them engage a style of unhinged chaos being pushed to the edge of restraints, David’s vocal delivery is less raspy and a little cleaner. The difference is minimal but refreshing and could potentially open the doors to new listeners.

The album opens with the drums of war leading us in a march with blaring sirens in the background. “1312” which stands for A.C.A.B. and is an acronym for All Cops are Bastards, is an open protest of the police and their methods. It encapsulates exactly what to expect moving forward, a fury laid upon frenzied guitar licks and a call to war rhythm.

Next up is “Fucking Hate You” a blitzkrieg of anger because apparently The Casualties fucking hate you. “Ashes of My Enemies” follows with a oi-sounding tune that will imbed itself in your brain with its infectious guitar work and catchy sing-a-long chorus. This style of soaring guitar riffs overlaid with a chant along chorus is widely used on this album, most notably with “Guard Dogs”, the titular “Written in Blood”, and “Ya Basta”which is delivered entirely in Spanish.

There is a distinct fiery pit-opening chaos that permeates this album. From the classic punk rage of “Demolition” to the borderline thrash metal “Feed off Fear” to the state destroying “Smash” there is an urgent need to grab some friends and start a circle pit. However Written in Blood is not pure vitriol as “Lost” showcases a depth of emotion over trying to carry on with the loss of a loved one. Accentuated by some drastic tempo changes, the song delivers this emotion without sacrificing the albums ridiculously high energy.

The album ends as it starts with marching drums sending us off to war with the social injustices being forced upon us. “Fuck your president and Fuck your wall, Fuck your border and Fuck you All” being repeated over and over is the perfect point to end on. A direct unapologetic middle finger that blurs the lines between street punk and hardcore delivered with a fury that is unmistakably The Casualties.

4.5/5 Stars



Album Review: The All Brights – “The White Album EP”

So earlier this ear, the mysterious beach punks known as The All Brights put out their second EP on Red Scare Industries. It’s called The White Album EP and it totally ruled, but we got kinda side-tracked with all of the iced coffee chugging and great white dodging that we are standard operating procedure during Massachusetts summers, so we kinda spaced reviewing the album. But then the leaves changed color and Halloween came and went and we started to get the seasonal affective-related doldrums that pop up when it starts getting dark at like 3:30 in the afternoon. So we plugged in our light boxes and fired up The White Album EP and now it’s like July all over again!

The EP contains six epically radical tracks that tackle most of society’s present ailments head-on, pulling few-if-any punches in the process. Kicking things off is “Maximum Hangtime,” a sub-two-minute rager about always making sure you save time to put your bros before your woes (editor’s note: I paraphrased and/or flat-out stole parts of that line from the album press release, but it’s goddamn perfect). “One Last Blue Text” follows, and finds our narrators telling a soul-crushingly real tale of a once-requited love that’s started to trend in a southerly direction, a victim of some of the complexities that plague us in 21st century America, specifically when one realizes that the object of their affection has switched from an iPhone to an Android device. The struggle, as we all know, is real. “Midwest Fuck Me” closes out the proverbial first side, and finds our protagonists again struggling macro issues, specifically with the state of higher education in the US. The song plays like a modern-day retelling of 1960’s classic “Hello Muddah Hello Faddah,” only our narrator isn’t lamenting being away at summer camp, he’s instead lamenting a decision to move to Ohio for college, a thousand miles away from the surf and avocados and reggae music in his native California.

“Side Two” gets things started with “The Ballad Of Me And My Funds,” is a rousing, working-class anthem for the children of the top one-percent-of-the-one-percent crowd, sure to be blasting from the speakers of your all of the Blohm + Voss’s in your neighborhood for decades to come. “Stand Up Pat L. Board” follows, and is a feel-good story about a young Arizonan who overcomes adversity and tackles the bullies in his new-found home town. This track, sung by the band’s inspirational bass player, who’s somewhat coincidentally also named Pat L. Board, will undoubtedly do for paddleboarding what Daniel LaRusso and Karate Kid did for the martial arts in the 1980s and what Mitchell Goosen and Airborne did for Rollerblading in the 1990s. Finally, The White Album EP closes out with “I’m Buying A Boat,” a heart-warming, ukulele-and-steel-drum driven ode to trading in your ladyfriend for a younger, hotter version, only WAIT, SHYAMALAN TWIST COMING, your ladyfriend reveals that she’s been nailing your best friend all along AND he’s got a bigger schmenzer than you. We’re pretty sure that’s the plot of Under The Tuscan Sun, right?

Anyway, if you’re still feeling the post-FEST blues or need a little pick-me-up while you’re digging the shovels out of the toolshed and tuning up the snowblower, fire up The White Album EP to cure what ails ya!

4.5/5 Stars



Album Review: Millie Manders and the Shutup – “Shutup – EP”

One of my favorite things about punk, as a genre, is when chaos is expressed through mixing different genres and creating a sound that is unique. Millie Manders and the Shutup’s new release Shutup – EP gives us a glimpse of this magic.

The album opens with a soulful raspy solo vocal but quickly explodes into a cacophony of horns which is then subsequently mixed with an aggressive lyrical delivery that is equal parts UK grime and the punk-ska stylings of Sonic Boom 6. “The Right to Life”, a song about animal rights, showcases Millie’s vocal chops. From the opening jazzy solo, to the fast as lightning rap, to the growl through clenched teeth, this track blends a lot of influences and Millie is more than capable of delivering with style.

The second song “Brave” continues to explore the boundaries between grime and punk with some fantastic instrumentation. I cannot decide which part I like most, the bass and drum lines, the slick guitar work or the jazzy horns during the breakdown. It truly is allowing Millie Manders and the Shutup to “break the walls, burn down the doors, and recreate our (their) world” in a unique way.

“Lollipops” follows this with a more straightforward punk rock jam that has infectious guitar work pushed by a driving drum line and punctuated by a very busy horn section. In a song about the refugee crisis, they display both a high degree of empathy and rage.

The last of this four song trip is “One That Got Away” and it is a more traditional ska-core ripper. Featuring the classic back and forth between metal guitar riffs and loud blaring horns, it’s a song that would be at home on a Devils Night Out era Bosstones playlist. This song showcases Millie’s outstanding rockstar voice.

My concern with this album is that there is magic in the first two songs and they seem to move away from that as the album progresses. There is a unique sound that stands out among the plethora of ska/ska punk releases this year. Even “Lollipops” seems to be a natural derivative of this formula if you want to mix up the ingredients. Then comes “One That Got Away” which from a technical standpoint is a great ska-core song as it is catchy, poppy, and has a memorable chorus that will have you singing along. But so will a lot of other albums that have been released this year. The reason you will return to this album more often is found in the earlier songs.

Shutup – EP gets 4 stars from me, mainly because of the sample size. 3 out of the 4 songs are beautifully mashed chaos that demand attention. The fourth, while still being super solid ska-core, degrades the energy of the album. I know the math does not quite add up, but the album is so excellent otherwise, I rounded up on the stars.

4/5 Stars



Album Review: Restorations – “LP5000”

The moody, rootsy, punk-adjacent rock of Restorations has always represented a war between the grounded and the ethereal. Maybe that’s its raison d’etre. It forges broken relationships and melancholy into something divine, while pulling divinity down from its pedestal and into our gutters. It’s a marriage between why we play music in the first place—the expressive drive; and how we play it—the artistic drive. The end result sounds like an amalgam of Fugazi, Constantines, The Menzingers, Hot Water Music, and My Bloody Valentine—and the only ones playing this particular amalgam are Restorations.

LP5000 is their latest full-length, on the heels of three well-loved albums and a handful of singles. This one is noticeably shorter, seven songs at twenty-four minutes—a grey area between album and EP that in the end, feels more complete than many longer works. Here, they’re just as anthemic, vulnerable, and experimental as they’ve always been—but the heart of Restorations is still in rock ‘n roll.

Album opener “St.” opens with feedback before succumbing to a steady, hypnotic, and bassy drum rhythm. Drumming usually escapes me completely, I’m as arrhythmic as they come and for me, a song’s quality usually starts and stops at its lyrics and melody. But here, and across the entirely of LP5000 I was entranced by the mesmeric rhythms—they don’t just back the music here, they’re as fundamental as the plaintive vocals and spidery guitar lines. Between the drums, grungy chorus, and the short, but whiplash guitar solo, “St.” serves as a reminder of Restorations’ roots—a broken-in, world weary vision of rock ‘n roll.

“Nonbeliever” is a highlight of the album, with its tense shuffle, portrait-like lyricism, and emo-influenced palm-muted guitar riffs. The lyricism here is beautiful, softly political, and at points conversational. I always appreciate when songwriter’s bring a sense of time, place, and age into their words. “Said you’ve found the trick: just be bad at your job/ If you burn all the fries, they’re gonna make you the king,” paints a picture of youthful struggle, the self-deprecation we utilize to make peace with a living we don’t want to fight for. “Nonbeliever” is an ode to being born into adulthood, chronicling a struggle doomed to bloom into complacency.

There are some interesting choices made on LP5000 production’s, but with a band like Restorations, no choice really feels outside their already fairly broad boundaries. The programmed beat, sounding like pulsating static, on “Melt” comes to mind. But it’s used to even greater effect on ending track “Eye,” giving a sort of eerie and desolate tone to the slice-of-life narration. The dead-air drums in the background, a perfect juxtaposition between the technologically-complex world we live in and the human relationships that define us. It explodes into squealing guitars and a massive chorus, the sound of Restorations using every tool at their disposal to feel and be felt.

LP5000 is more of the same, when the same has always been top-notch. Restorations is a band with nothing to prove, and yet, they are one of the most exciting working in the greater punk rock arena. They’re as lyrical as their contemporaries and just as catchy, yet they push their sound into spacey, angular directions. Perhaps the band’s greatest feat is making this feel effortless. Restorations experimentation is an extension of their identity, it comes off as natural and unpretentious. LP5000 is seven great songs, and everything else is just what it took to make them great.

4.5/5



Album review: Rundown Kreeps “Illside Village”

Last year the Rundown Kreeps released Illside Village which is their sophomore release and follows 2015’s Breaking the Routine. The Rundown Kreeps are not a band that can be pigeon-holed or succinctly described as they draw from a wide range of influences but still develop a sound that is uniquely their own.

The opener “Me and Jay in Space” sets the table for what to expect on this album. It has blistering breakneck speed guitar solos and a driving rhythm that is flirtatiously ska. It’s in the next two songs “Seem to Care” and “I Won’t Go” that this love affair is fully realized. The first being a mid tempo jam with some uptempo interludes which will have you tapping your toes. “I Won’t Go” returns to the full speed and would fit on pretty much any 90’s era ska-core album, just with no horn section. This throwback ska styling can also be seen on “Glass and Regrets”.

This will they or won’t they affair with ska is widespread on this album as the Rundown Kreeps keep up a frantic pace and use the ska as a way to allow the listener to relax for a second before being tossed back into the fray. “Here nor There” is the perfect example of this, as it is sandwiched between “Pulling Pins” a borderline hardcore gem centered on a fantastic guitar riff and the pure pop punk “The Routine”. The use of “”Here nor There” in between gives the listener a brief respite with a slower ska skank and a bit of a 50’s vibe vocal delivery. Almost as if instead of taking a break at the bar, they took a break at a malt shop. The other example that I would be remiss to not mention is “Not a Clue” it carries the same 50’s style vocals overlaid on slow upstroke guitars that is totally skankable but, like the rest of the album, does not let you get too comfortable because of a crazy outro which kicks the album back into turbo.

Two standout tracks are “Silent Shots” and “You Belong’d to Me”. “Silent Shots” is a ridiculously steep dive on this roller-coaster of an album. It takes an already frenzied pace and kicks it up a notch in the way that would make Black Flag or Minor Threat proud. Its hardcore, its political, and it’s sure to open up a pit. While “You Belong’d to Me” is the exact opposite, an acoustical love song which displays the Rundown Kreeps ability to channel some vulnerability, made on a barren landscape that is in sharp contrast to the rest of the album.

Most of Illside Village sounds like horn-less Losing Streak era Less than Jake but playfully mixed with a Misfits style punk rockabilly and a hint of classic pop-punk sensibility. I did say at the beginning they defy a easy description.

4/5 Stars



Album Review: Throw – “I’m Very Upset”

I make no secret out of the punk I like. Over time, I’ve stripped off layers and layers of affectation, only to fully embrace my own inner-orgcore. I don’t pretend to like Black Flag, I don’t get misty-eyed over the Clash. For me, punk rock is at its finest when it’s melodic, vulnerable, and DIY. It’s just the way I’m wired, poserdom be damned. But even in this corner we’ve collectively started calling melodic punk—my corner—there’s still the same amount of repetition and triteness you’d find anywhere else. That’s how genres work, there’s a narrow field of tropes to play with and some stick to the tried and true and some steal apples from neighboring farms. Portland’s Throw is one of the latter with an armful of apples, and trite they are not. They play with stunning openness, humor, and heart—and they do so very, very fast.

I’m Very Upset is their latest album, a follow up to last year’s Real, Real Nice (which showed up on my best of the year list), and on it they continue refining their unique brand of punk rock: combining emo, indie, and the athletic strumming of Epi-Fat skate punk into a scrappy and inherently youthful vision that feels a lot more like what the genre should sound like in 2018 than anything else I’ve heard. Which is to say: it is both true to the genre’s original vision and true to what it has become in the present day.

“Atlas; Bummed” opens the album with trebly crunching guitars and whiplash speed, taking a breather for a bridge, but otherwise, spending its minute and forty-five seconds at full sprint. The  crux of Throw is presented here in all its glory, through double-time strumming and bummed out lyrics. The first sung line of I’m Very Upset is fitting: “Feels like the weight of the world is crashing down all around me.” It’s this combination of lyrical openess and garage-borne speed that makes me liken them to a gag reflex—quick, involuntary, and natural—a response to stimuli that manifests in an instant. Throw isn’t just writing songs, they’re throwing them up.

I’m Very Upset is filled with a lot of great songwriting though, and it’s not all emotional histrionics. “Drinking Wine With My Dad” is a great song that paints a portrait of a moment in a charmingly direct way. It’s this kind of snapshot songwriting that aligns Throw with the Menzingers and Restorations of the punk world, even if their actual approach to the music is a lot more classically punk. “Trees” supports the argument that Throw has their hands in a lot of old school punk as well. If you know the words to Descendent’s “All,” you can probably figure out “Trees” as well.

The second half of the record contains its best hooks. The 50s style ‘ooos’ of “Steamroller” juxtapose against heavy power chord riffs, resulting in a dynamic, venomous listen. “Pass the Prozac” has the best opening line on the record, coupled with galloping chords. “Well I’ve heard this one before, you really fucked up, apologize,” leads the charge into one of Throw’s most fully realized song—complete with rockin’ solo. But it’s “Spaceship,” that might just be the best on the album. It sounds like Suffer-era Bad Religion (name-checked in the lyrics, of course) but it’s also funny, pointed, and catchy as all hell. When I’m Very Upset finishes, I’m left with one line repeating in my head, over and over again, the chorus to end all choruses: “Elon Musk privatized my spaceship!”

I’m Very Upset is an evolution as much as it is an antidote. It encompasses the post-Against Me! era of punk rock in its entirety. Within this collection of songs it chronicles the rise of Red Scare, the combined influence of Hot Water Music, the Flatliners, the Menzingers, and Nothington—all the while sounding nothing like any of them. They’ve taken the quirky, cracked-iPhone, late-texting, memeing nervous energy of emo-pop darlings Modern Baseball without dipping more than a toe in their waters. Throw is an amalgam of all the ideas of what punk can be now, while taking notes from the genres foundation. I’m Very Upset is like a stretched rubber band, and here, we’re hearing it snap back to form—settling somewhere between loud-and-fast and sad-as-fuck.

 

4.5/5



EP Review: Suburban Samurai – “Short But Not Short Enough”

It is not a stretch to say this three-song EP from Suburban Samurai has it all. “Gutter Eyes” is the kind of short, fast, and in-your-face hardcore song every punk album should have at least three of. It doesn’t mess around, grabbing you by the throat and throwing you into a circle pit of mayhem. This is a PEARS-style punk song with a hair more melody than Sick of It All.

“This Town” starts off in the same vein before abruptly transforming into a ska-punk feel, a la early Millencolin or Reel Big Fish without the horns. These guys are not only solid instrumentalists but they know how to write, too, with harmonically interesting chord progressions and cohesive lyrics. “This Town” ends the way it began, like a hardcore song but with a dash of vocals and a Strung Out-like guitar riff to sign off.

The EP mellows out for the first minute of “Birthday”. “Birthday” is only guitar and vocals for the first verse, and even when the rest of the band slams itself into the mix, the tempo is still held in check. A brief power-pop section, stylistically similar to New Found Glory and Seaway, follows before returning to the breakneck speeds of the first two songs – almost sounds like we’re in 2002 again – and then fading out in distortion.

At only three songs under seven minutes, this EP certainly isn’t in danger of being too long. Hardcore-punk, ska-punk, pop-punk: Short But Not Short Enough, from Suburban Samurai, pretty much has it all.

4/5 Stars



Album Review: NOFX “RIBBED – LIVE IN A DIVE”

Advertised on the Fat Wreck Chords website as “one of their top 3 live albums to date”, NOFX released their third live album last month.

A brief history: NOFX first released I Heard They Suck Live, a classic for sure, way back in 1995. In 2007, they released They’ve Actually Gotten Worse Live. This second one was unique because the band went out of their way not to repeat songs from the first live album, thereby leaving off classics “Bob”, “The ’Brews”, and “Linoleum”. But considering the band had released so much new material since 1995, this was an uncharacteristically classy move for the band. What was not classy was teasing the listener by playing the almighty Decline as an encore only to fade the recording out after just a couple minutes (pisses me off just thinking about it). The band did eventually release a live version of The Decline, though by itself and in DVD and vinyl format only.

In the early stages of this millennium, Fat Wreck Chords launched the Live In A Dive series, subsequently releasing seven volumes between 2001 and 2005 and featuring, among others, Lagwagon, Bracket, and the Subhumans. The Live In A Dive title was shed when NOFX released They’ve Actually Gotten Worse Live, though the Mad Caddies 2004 live album had also gone by a different title.

Then a bunch of years passed before the Live In A Dive series was revived with Ribbed – Live In A Dive. As the title suggests, the band plays songs only from their 1991 album, Ribbed. In fact, they play them all, and in order. The band even plays “Brain Constipation”, despite suggesting beforehand that the audience members take a break to go to the bathroom, and calling it “one of our worst songs ever”.

It has actually become commonplace for bands to perform albums in their entireties, and even releasing those concerts commercially; Less Than Jake did this for each of their first five albums. Ribbed – Live In a Dive is a first for NOFX, though.

Going back to “Brain Constipation”, this is a song that I’ve surely listened to dozens of times while listening to the Ribbed album or to NOFX on shuffle, and while it never stood out as a particularly strong song – I’m sure I didn’t even know what it was called before now – nor did it strike me as particularly awful. That’s one of the interesting things about NOFX in concert: they are so NOT rock stars. Their stage demeanor is casual and conversational and filled with self-criticism. I’ve always been fascinated when a band critiques its previous output, as NOFX often does before and after songs, whether panning “Brain Constipation”, or giving themselves passing grades on the final three songs, calling them “all pretty good”.

From their earliest days NOFX has been known for humor, though never really as a musically comedic act, like The Vandals kind of were, and maybe not intentionally, either – how seriously should we take Fat Mike as he sings about bathing on Wednesdays and Saturdays only, that they are “Shower Days”, and that he hates them? Sure, sometimes they cross the line, but in general Fat Mike, El Hefe, and Eric Melvin make me laugh.

Fat Mike also talks down “Food, Sex, and Ewe” as he laughingly reminisces of the days when he thought ska was cool because of Operation Ivy but suggests that he now thinks ska is stupid. Which is too bad because, while most of my favorite NOFX songs are of the fast and hardcore variety, one of the reasons I originally got into NOFX over twenty years ago was because they were often considered a ska-punk band. S&M Airlines has one ska song while Ribbed has two – I say “I Don’t Want You Around” counts – and they continued that practice throughout the decade. “Food, Sex, and Ewe” is not a bad song.

“I Don’t Want You Around” is a better song, though. Not to give too much away but there is a guest singer for this one due to Fat Mike’s inability to sing and play the song at the same time (the guest is Kody from Teenage Bottlerocket/The Lillingtons; ok, I gave away everything).

While the second NOFX live album avoided repeating material from the first, this third one makes no such promise, a good thing because otherwise it would be pretty short – “Moron Brothers”, “El Lay”, “Together on the Sand”, and “Nowhere” were all on I Heard They Suck Live; “Green Corn” was on They’ve Actually Gotten Worse Live; and (this only kind of counts) Ten Years of Fucking Up had live videos of the studio versions of “Shower Days” and “Gonoherpasyphilaids”. Teenage Me thought “Gonoherpasyphilaids” was hilarious. Thirty-Something Me still finds it amusing.

Speaking of things Teenage Me liked, how about the new boobs-jugs-balloons doo-wop tag at the end of “New Boobs”? They actually pull it off live! Comparing the songs “New Boobs”, about breast implants and cosmetic surgery, and “Malachi Crunch”, about racist skinheads, show the wide range of lyrical content NOFX can showcase throughout an album. Showing their range musically is showcased in “New Boobs” alone. Moments like the doo-wop tag seem to have been built for El Hefe. So perfect for him is this tag, as well as “Together On The Sand” and the doo-do-do-do-do-doo interlude in “Moron Brothers”, that it’s easy to forget that El Hefe didn’t actually join the band until after the original Ribbed was released. The transition from the acoustic pseudo-love song “Together On The Sand” into “Nowhere” is identical to that on the first live album, which was identical to the studio version. I’ve always loved the guitar lines in “Nowhere”.

Is “Cheese/Where’s My Slice” one song or two? The title suggests two but they’ve never been split into separate tracks. The sarcastic refrain “Where’s my slice? I want more than equal rights. I want everything for free” along with the line “You think I give a shit if you’re a socialist” from “Nowhere” serve as reminders that punk rock’s political views used to be more libertarian rather than the extreme left it generally promotes today (my quoting from “Nowhere”, by the way, is a perfect example of a writer taking something out of context. Feel free to look up the rest of the lyrics).

While there will always be those who violently disagree with me, I will fight to the death in defense of my claim that Ribbed was NOFX’s first good album. Brett Gurewitz produced it (note the Bad Religion-like harmonies in the middle of “Green Corn”), but he produced their first two albums as well, so it would seem the band simply got better. Ribbed is a solid-sounding record, but the quality of indie punk recordings has gone way up since 1991, so even though this is a live recording (made in 2012 though not released until 2018) the sound quality is superior to the original studio quality.

While the sound quality is better, the performance is sloppier, which is often the case for live recordings, though not always – NOFX’s performances of “You Drink, You Drive, You Spill” and “Beer Bong” on I Heard They Suck Live were both better and tighter than their respective studio versions. One excuse the guys, especially Fat Mike, allows themselves is that these songs are harder, apparently way harder than the First Ditch Effort material. Fat Mike begins the album by warning the audience that they’re “going to fuck up a fucking lot.” Before “Shower Days” he says, “everybody watch me; this is hard”. After “New Boobs”, Hefe and Melvin have a playoff to demonstrate how difficult the guitar lick is in the song they’d just played. I haven’t tried to play any of these songs, but I’ll take their word for it – these songs do sound more complicated than, say, “Six Years On Dope”.

Too much talking often prevents a live album from holding up over time; I like blink-182 but The Mark, Tom, and Travis Show is almost unlistenable now. The novelty wears off after four or five listens as the chitter-chatter turns more annoying than funny. I’ve never found that to be the case with NOFX. I Heard They Suck Live in particular still makes me laugh over two decades later. Their crude potty humor somehow comes off smarter than their peers, despite the onstage discussion that Fat Mike, at the time forty-six years-old, started doing drugs when he was thirty-two, so he’d only been doing drugs for twelve years (uhhhh…math much?). Other talking points include the differences between ska-punks and punk-punks, how to distinguish a high five versus a Sieg Heil, the pronunciation of the word “sabotage”, the consistency with which Jews have good ideas, and that the writers of Californication plagiarized a line from “Moron Brothers” for an episode.

NOFX still sounds good despite the drugs and middle-age. Seems like I haven’t heard a great live album since the demise of the original Live In A Dive series, which coincided roughly with the decline in popularity of punk rock. This one probably won’t become a classic the way I view I Heard They Suck Live, but any fan of the band is going to get a lot of enjoyment out of Live In a Dive – Ribbed.

4/5 stars