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Album Review: Mercy Music – “Until the End of Your World”

How often do you find a new favorite band?

For me—not very often. I’m a reviewer, I listen to a bunch of music, and as much as I put in my ears, a select handful of it ends up sticking. But, when it does—oh boy. Mercy Music is the latest to be thrown at the wall and the latest to stick. Their new album Until the End of Your World makes a case for them being a new and electric voice in the world of misery-melodies and gutter poetry.

There’s something at once urgent and reckless about the music—each and every one written with the finality and verve of a suicide note. It feels indispensable, like music made to last. Album opener “Song For” begins: “Am I too afraid to kill myself?” It’s a gunshot crooned, silky smooth and impossible to ignore, and it hangs heavy in the air until the needle lifts. Mercy Music live in the twilight between acts of self destruction and sugary pop and the final product sounds like an amalgam of earnest songwriting, big hooks, and moody melodic punk. It’s the juxtaposition between singer Brendan Scholz’s smooth voice and his dark lyricism that makes Mercy Music into its own beast, and the production backs the vibe. If there’s a moment that captures Mercy Music at its essence, it’s the first thing we hear: rumbling distortion, punctuated with a melody played by bright sounding bells.

When it comes to power trios, there’s a very real danger of writing an album of chord progressions with no real songs. But, throughout Until the End of Your World, it becomes clear that there are some great songwriting minds at work in Mercy Music, and each individual instrument works hard to not only carry us through the changes, but to emphasize rhythms, introduce counter-melodies and to build honest to goodness songs. The album wouldn’t be as good as it is if it wasn’t for these instrumental considerations.The drums deserve special mention, providing beats evocative of Phil Spector and 60s pop, while singer/guitarist Scholz shreds, palm-mutes, and riffs his way through anthem after anthem. These disparate elements—the pitch black lyrics, the aggressive fretwork, and sugary pop backbone—join together to form the core of Mercy Music’s sound.

It was, however, the lyrics that first jumped out and bit me. From the opening line, (which, in my mind, has already become iconic) to little lexical rattlesnakes on “Mark Your Wrists” (“You have a way with words and I’m too abrupt.”) and “Mr. Universe,” (“Are these the last words I’ll ever write? And is it too late to suck you in tonight?”), the lyrics are constantly coiling, rattling, and ready—fangs dripping with venom. They ask plaintive, painful questions that bleed and in turn resonate, like calls from the void, desperate for even an echo.

Until The End of Your World is full of great songs, and beyond great, honest lyrics, musical cohesion, and the fact that this is a power trio in every sense of the phrase—it was the songs that kept me coming back. On my first listen, I toe-tapped to the beats as little lines crawled out of melodies and white-knuckled my attention. On the next listen, I started learning melodies, singing along. Soon, I had a shortlist of favorite tracks. Then, I got to see Mercy Music live with Spanish Love Songs and I heard them again for the first time: I witnessed their scrappy, electric energy in person and watched them breathe life into the songs I didn’t know yet. And now, however that all adds up, I have a new favorite. Eleven songs of anxiety, depression, and injured hope—eleven songs I’ll sing for the rest of my life.

 

5/5

 



Album Review: Lost Love – “Good Luck Rassco”

Sometimes a good band meets band description can be all you need to get through the door. Montreal’s Lost Love were pitched to me as Menzingers meet Jeff Rosenstock meet Weezer. That’s three different bands making up a sort of melodic alt-rock/punk Venn diagram of influences, and supposedly, in the center, overlapping, there is Lost Love and their latest album Good Luck Rassco. As luck would have it, Bomb the Music Industry! and the Menzingers are two of my favorite bands, and while I’ve never been a big Weezer guy (they’re aw-shucks factor has always been teetering on too much for me, thankyouverymuch), I have always admired Rivers Cuomo’s distinctive, sometimes heavy, always smooth, and very knowingly rock ‘n roll fretwork. From a couple words, I found myself wondering what Lost Love sounds like, so there it is—Good Luck Rassco was now an object of intrigue.

And believe it or not, it’s a sensible description. From the get-go, with “Sexting Across America,” you hear the sort of bendy lead that forces a thousand music reviewers to collectively type Weezer-esque. Chords chug, choruses are backed by more Cuomo-ish shredding, and the melodies are sugary and at least as sticky. The songs on Good Luck Rassco are filled with gang vocaled ba-bas and lyrics forged of hooks and hurt. It’s easy to see where Lose Love’s influences intersect and songs like “Gospel Tabernacle” bring the band around to something akin to hyper-competence, and even better, a unique sound. Heavy bass roils around in the background of the verse, punctuating the opening with heavy, gravelly buh-dums, juxtaposed by the pure surfy sweetness of its chorus.

“Clay Turris” is a standout on Good Luck Rassco, another bass driven track (reminiscent of some of Rosenstock’s arrangements, with heavy, thundering bass and guitars as more or less a dash of seasoning). It’s mid-tempo and catchy—defined by its sunniness as well as its self loathing with lyrics like, “You say I’m lousy when I’m drunk, but when I’m sober I feel like I’m ten years older and I’m bored.” It all comes together into something that feels honest, a little painful, and expertly constructed.

Good Luck Rassco has the nerve to end on another high note. “Burrito Kind of Guy” is the sort of fun bluesy stomper that mixes some of the earnest working-through-shit stuff with the whimsy and fun of a big-ass shout-along that goes, “Na na na na na, I need a burrito.” AJJ played a similar game back in their Jihad days with Christmas Island, but I think Lost Love might have improved on the idea here. Usually, this move signifies something. Art is full of choices, right? It’s constructed by people continuously making choice after choice after choice. So, ending an album on a note like this gives the audience a taste of punk irreverence, a middle finger to Important Albums, while also simultaneously, being kinda important. The song builds to its refrain with some great lyrical nuggets, finding a sense of humor within the tire treads of rough patches, closing the album with a sense of absurd resolution.

So—why isn’t this my album of the year? Well, it’s good. And a lot of times it’s great, but the record stops dead in its tracks at the starting line. There’s something cool about the Venn diagram of influences Lost Love have carved out for themselves, and I think at their best, they do justice to those influences while also having a sound that feels distinct. But—listen to “Sexting Across America.” Anything sound familiar? You don’t have to look far to find where you’ve heard that saccharine, rhythmic melody before; Lost Love does half the work for you by wearing their influences so prominently. For Jeff Rosenstock fans, the problem is obvious—”Sexting Across America” has lifted the verse melody from We Cool?’s “Hall of Fame.” And ss soon as I figured it out, I couldn’t unhear it. I started wondering: was this intentional? I listened to the lyrics, and heard no tip of the hat, no clever line about stolen melodies or living in the shadows of your heroes. So, the next question was: is this plagiarism?

Well, no. Probably not. And just as I can acknowledge that it was distracting—and ultimately, unfortunately, detracting—I can also acknowledge that this was probably an accident of humming melodies over a common chord progression, hearing something you like, and then moving forward too rapidly to consider where it came from. But in a band like this, nearly defined by their mish-mash of influence, a misstep like this, fairly or unfairly, highlights a dependence on what’s been done before.

Good Luck Rassco might take more hurt than it deserves for an honest mistake. Lost Love have a lot of talent going on here, a lot of great songwriting, and a pretty good feel for how an album should be put together. Eleven songs at thirty minutes is about perfect for a punk record, and each of these eleven have an individuality that prevents the album from blurring together into a sour mash of woahs, Cuomo-solos, and power chords. But, Lost Love put themselves into a box with their own Venn diagram, and a lifted melody keeps them from pushing outside of it. Good Luck Rassco is a good eleven songs of Menzingers meet Rosenstock meet Weezer, but at ten, it’d have been Lost Love’s, and better for it.

3.5/5 Stars



Album Review: The Hempsteadys “Séance! Séance!”

My first thought when I heard that The Hempsteadys were releasing Séance! Séance! was that this is going to be the party album of the fall. The self described P-Funk of Street Punk are known for their super high energy ska and reggae, as proven on their last album El Amor de Los Muertos, a rocksteady opera from 2015.

Much to my surprise Séance! Séance! opens with “Still Life With Woodpecker” and “Compass” a pair of songs that are reminiscent of 1372 Overton Park from Lucero, hard driving barroom rock with a horn section that delivers a punch. This sets the stage for the expectations from the rest of the album. Gone are the conceptual operatic love songs about monsters, here are heartfelt lyrics layered over hard driving rhythms with soaring guitars and a horn section that knows when to strike. “Classic Cars,” “Ghost of Joe Strummer” and “The Well” showcase this sound with surgical precision.

All of this does not mean that they have abandoned their ska reggae roots. The first reminder shows up on “When Dead are Undead”, which features the incomparable Vinny Noble, and delivers a song that picks up exactly where “Ghost Town” from the Specials leaves off. Its an eerie two-tone rocker with multiple solos that will haunt you well after the song ends. “Temple of Boom” continues this hauntingly good rocksteady vibe but gives us a little dub twist. Which is the absolute perfect slow down and recover before the banger that is “Rudy Comes From the Street,” a lively foot stomper that will definitely have you dancing to the beat. The album ends with “Box Fan” which made me think of all the nights I spent skanking to the English Beat. It is a steady rocking number with a horn line that defies you to not get off your feet.

If Bruce Springsteen had a one night stand with the Specials this would be the result. An album that makes me reach for my whiskey while compulsively heading for the dance floor. It’s straightforward rock and roll with a two-tone soul.

5/5 Stars



Album Review: Squarecrow – “Before the Sun Catches Us All”

My immediate impression of Before the Sun Catches Us All was that Squarecrow was getting serious. I hadn’t had much of an encounter with the band before, but I knew their name from bills of shows I’d never end up going to. I knew they were active, I knew they played some sort of melodic punk, and now, I know they have an album out.

“Six Miles Above Clackamas” paints the seriousness in technicolor. It’s a slow, jammy, singalong, the sort that melodic punk bands write when they’re going for something bigger—when they’re playing with dynamics and examining what it means, to them, to write a punk record. I can’t help but get shades of the Menzingers here, with a little bit of classic rock melody. What it means is that Squarecrow aren’t just releasing some songs, they’ve written a record, and from the first song, they’re intention is announced. 

But there’s a certain kind of album that is hard for me to talk about, and it’s the album that is good, but not great. You listen, you nod your head, but ultimately, you’d be fine if you never heard it again.  And while that sounds scathing, I wouldn’t say it is—it has as much to do with personal taste as it does the band. What Squarecrow has done with Before the Sun Catches Us All is write a record that hits all the major beats of melodic punk.  Down the checklist, we go: right now, we need emotional turmoil. Stuff with lyrics like, “Oh maybe, oh maybe, I’ll find my way out of this open sea.” We need catchy melodies that don’t sound too Ramones-y. Because remember: this is melodic punk, not pop punk. And finally, when you’ve added drama to the arrangement, where the instruments nearly drop out and you can deliver your lyrics in the same painfully plaintive way the other guys do, you’re ready to bill your album as a concept album (in melodic punk, concept albums are a big deal, and unless you’re Direct Hit!, they’re a clear signifier that you are not, I repeat, pop punk).

But—this isn’t a bad album. In fact, this feels like a band pushing themselves out of ‘local band’ and into ‘nationwide touring act.’ The takeaway from Before the Sun Catches Us All, ultimately, is that they are a serious band. And not to make light of it—it is a serious record. The songs were written in the wake of singer Todd’s cancer diagnosis. Imagine the pain, the fear; the looking your own death in the eyes. That’s heavy shit, the heaviest shit. So, there’s no emotion unearned across Before the Sun Catches Us All—but what’s frustrating about it is that in too many ways it’s a mimicry of style, and while the album’s vulnerability is without a doubt earned, the style feels perfunctory in the face of such a profound concept.

I mean—what makes a Squarecrow? What is their identity as a band? How does Squarecrow sound different than say—Western Settings, Typesetter, Russian Girlfriends, or Mercy Music? There’s worse things to be than a competent executor of a popular style, but Squarecrow has something to say, and I wish they’d have pushed their music further to match the fire in their songwriting. There’s shades of power pop in here, a little of (gasp) pop punk, and even a little of skate punk, but the edges have been smoothed down and it becomes an exercise in kinda-sorta. I’d have preferred to hear Squarecrow commit hard to any one or two of those. Wanna do a punky power pop concept album? Go for it. Make it huge. Model it after Tommy or something. Wanna do an aggro-melodic-punk album? Bring out those distorted cowboy chords and go raw, and push the emotion level to its confrontational max—scream every line and make sure the audience hears every fucking word of what you’re feeling. But, don’t do half measures. If this is a serious record, we need Squarecrow to represent a sound or feeling we can put a finger on. In the world of great albums, nothing but transcendence will do.

But, and this is important, the songs are good. Pretty consistently too, and in fact, despite how typical the style is, Squarecrow has a host of great songs across this album. They feel tense and heavy with great melodies and emotive weight. From opener, “Six Miles Above Clackamas,” to closer “Windowless,” there’s a lot of talented, inspired songwriting here. “Walk It Off” is a catchy number carried by chugging chords and a couple of standout lyrics. “Aesthetic” and “Date Me” are a one-two punch of melodic punk bangers, sure-fire singalongs just waiting for an audience. There are no bad songs on Before the Sun Catches Us All and I think that is a department where Squarecrow has a leg-up on the competition, because of everything else I can pick bones with, songwriting is a much more ethereal, defiantly intangible process, and to be good at it is to simply have the right instincts.

Before the Sun Catches Us All will have its fans, and it should. I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from hearing it, because it has a great story behind it and Squarecrow may just very well be the next big thing. La Escalera is starting to solidify itself as a west coast Red Scare in some ways, and if that means anything, we might get to see their roster poached by Epitaph and Fat in the next five years. This is an album expressing real shit, and while it doesn’t go out of the way to make the genre its own, at its core—it’s done right, with feeling. 

3.5/5 Stars



Album Review: Elway – “For The Sake Of The Bit”

Elway return with their fourth full length release with the chaps opting for quality over quantity, delivering 25 minutes of mid-western tinged punk rock over 8 tracks.  The album is self produced and released by the mighty Red Scare Industries who seem to have handled all of their output since 2011’s Delusions.

For The Sake Of The Bit starts brightly with Inches, a mid tempo lambasting of music critics (gulp!) which suggests those who share their opinion online “GET FUCKED”.  From here, we dive straight into Hold On, the albums only real fast paced ripper and it’s a beauty. Next track, Crowded Conscience, slows things down a bit but builds to a beautifully crooned chorus which you’ll find yourself singing to anyone who’ll listen until they roll their eyes at you and walk away – or is that just me?  Selfish Masochistic Psychic Trauma starts with a jangly little intro which leads into a chugging, heavy chord progression drenched in melancholy and we are deep in classic Elway territory. The instrumentation dials back to let Tim’s vocals take centre stage and the song builds to a resounding chorus which impressively includes the name of the song in the lyrics.  Eating Crow and Perfect Silence continue the theme, mixing touches of melancholy with big, sing along choruses that keep the album ticking along nicely. Paper Guitars is a bit of an odd one for me, it’s a decent enough song and in keeping with the rest of the album but the final minute and a half is an instrumental with an inaudible woman’s voice talking over it. Interesting enough I guess but I don’t quite get the point of it, either make the talking understandable or don’t bother…but what do I know. The album finishes with Nobody Goes Into Meteorology For The Sunny Days which rounds things off nicely, walking the tightrope between positivity and pensiveness in the way Elway do best.

At this point these guys have crafted their own sound and are not really directly comparable to many others, however if you’re into Red City Radio, The Lawrence Arms or The Menzingers you are probably going to dig the fuck out of this.

4/5



Album Review: Chaser – “Sound The Sirens”

Is it reductive to describe a band’s sound by naming a bunch of other bands who have clearly influenced them? Chaser wear those influences so proudly on their sleeve that it’s almost inescapable and I think they’d be fine with it. These guys keep the 90s melodic punk flame burning brightly. Right from the get go, opener, The Uprising, lets us know what kind of territory we’re in, with 1 minute and 12 seconds of Bad Religion meets Pennywise, 100 mph punk rock. The Pennywise feel continues into At What Cost with some nice gang vocals thrown in for good measure. Next track, Nightmares starts with a slightly slower paced NUFAN feel with a chorus which recalls moments of Today’s Empires era Propagandhi.

As the album progresses through Silencer and Bonfire, you stop hearing the influences so much and start to get a real impression of Chaser’s own sound. They do a great job of distilling the essence of their Californian punk forefathers and, after 18 years of fighting the good fight, their musicianship and song writing is at a very high level.

Let It Die mixes up the vocals with bassist Jesse Stopnitzky’s gruffer vocal contrasting nicely with the cleaner vocal from Mike LeDonne and for me this is one of their stand out tracks. The Show is an anthemic ode to the humble punk rock show, with a musical arrangement on the chorus that I could swear I’ve heard before but for the life of me I can’t work out where. Wars is a stripped down guitar and vocal affair which juxtaposes well to the rest of the album. In a live context, this song will give the band and audience a much-needed chance to get their breath back! The respite doesn’t last for long though as we launch straight into Bet It All, a near perfect slice of fast paced melodic tuneage. Penultimate track, A Million Reasons, has an early Rise Against feel and album closer, Woe Song, rounds things off nicely.  Sound The Sirens was mastered by Jason Livermore at the legendary Blasting Rooming studios and there should a be a label announcement for this release imminently (Editors Note: I gave this album to Nick to review before telling him I signed the band to DS Records).

For the past few years Chaser have been on a bit of a hiatus however anyone who was a fan of their previous releases will not be disappointed with this album and it’s sure to win plenty of new fans too.

4/5



Album Review: The Killigans – “Dance On Your Grave”

Dance On Your Grave isn’t a part of my wheelhouse. I’m not a bagpipes and fiddles in my punk kinda guy. I’m the sort of snob who left Punk Rock Bowling early one night because Flogging Molly was playing. That’s the sort of guy I am. But—The Killigans, despite first appearances, are not just another celtic punk band. In fact, upon listening, they reminded me of something I do like a lot: the folksy troubador stylings of the late Erik Petersen. Here is holistic folk music, pulling from strummed cowboy chords, the perspective of the working class, and yes, occasional bagpipes and fiddles.

The Killigans won me over with their songwriting. These guys can craft a melody, they can write a chorus, and they can get you to sing along with it. Dance On Your Grave sits somewhere between The Orphans and Rancid, with a wide-range of orchestration. Opener “Throw It Away,” is a certified stomper with a melodic guitar lead, lots of gang vocals, and a pointed message delivered in lyrics like, “the rich blame the poor, while the poor just try to get by.” Lyrical asides like this, coupled with their catchiness were what made me see the Killigans as more than just a punk band playing in a gimmicky subgenre. These guys have things to say and they’re using folk punk (and is punk that different than just electric folk in the first place?) as their platform.

The album, from there, doesn’t lose momentum with “Peducah” and its aggressive folk opening, or “One Angry Voice,” with its big, sticky woahs. “Burn it Down” is the first introduction to slower, more traditional folk, but by the time the chorus hits the electric strums are laying down a heavy rhythm and once again, we have something to shout along with. “Bartender” is one of the heavy-hitters on the album, a big ode to the bartender, that’s probably just a hop and a skip from being Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” (a worthy influence, if I ever heard one). It’s a fun song, that’s insanely singable and works well within the context of the album, balancing the political content with some working class barn-burning.

The most insistent song on the album is “Reality Bites,” a pure stomper carried by sharp chords and a sneering vocal delivery that comes off as nearly apocalyptic in its disgust with the war being waged on the working class via gentrification. It’s this sort of grounded approach that makes Dance On Your Grave feel like more than an exercise in style. They lyrics here matter, and the folk trappings only serve to reinforce the perspective held within. This is music and lyrics, in lockstep.

Dance On Your Grave is an album I didn’t expect to like, but it won me over with its earnest exuberance and cutting politics. And it helps that the Killigans are no slouch in the songwriting department, crafting catchy melodies and fun arrangements in an effortless display of chops. While I think the album could be a song or two shorter, there’s no denying what the Killigans have done here. Dance On Your Grave is exemplary working class punk rock—an under-documented perspective, put to music meant to be played as well as learned.

4/5



Album Review: Goldfinger – “The Knife”

John Feldman took some heat for The Knife. Many referred to it as the first John Feldman and Friends album rather than the seventh Goldfinger album. Feldman, the only remaining original member of the band, is now joined by Mike Herrera of MxPx, Phil Sneed formerly of Story of the Year, and, on the album anyway but not usually in concert, Travis Barker of blink-182. That’s a hell of a super group Feldman put together following his messy breakup with original drummer Darrin Pfeiffer the year before.

Feldman does more producing these days than he does performing, and he hit the biggest-of-times producing and co-writing blink-182’s Grammy nominated California. Some have complained that the songs on The Knife sound too much like California rejects. It’s easy to imagine Feldman hanging on to drum tracks from unfinished Blink songs and deciding to use them for himself, particular on “See You Around”, a slower song which actually features Mark Hoppus singing the second verse but is otherwise the most forgettable song on the album, and “Put The Knife Away”, one of the strongest songs here, and what would have been among the strongest song on California.

Still, there are plenty of us simply happy to have a new Goldfinger album, no matter who is playing now.  A lot has changed since Goldfinger’s gritty debut-album back in 1996, so indicative of mid-90s punk, very similar to Dude Ranch, really, as far as style and production-quality goes, minus the ska-influence of course. Feldman looks exactly the same as he did in the “Here In Your Bedroom” video, though his voice twenty-one-years earlier is almost unrecognizable.

The Knife opens with “A Millions Miles”, taking off at ludicrous speed just as “Mind’s Eye” kicked off the self-titled album once upon a time.  The brief second verse morphs into an upbeat ska feel before hitting the chorus again – “Where did my life go? I just can’t hold it back no more” – followed by a barrage of whoas to take us out; at 2:05, “A Million Miles” is a great opener.

“Get What I Need” is the kind of song the Goldfinger purists are looking for – a straight-forward ska song with horns a-blasting and lyrics filled with nostalgia, drug references, and f-bombs. Later on, “Who’s Laughing Now” is another throwback representing what was so great about ska’s far-too-brief time in the mainstream sun – more horns, more breakneck lyrics, reinventing a line from a classic children’s song (“ashes, ashes, we all fall down”), heys and more whoas, and a pretty sick “This is not the end-o” breakdown.

The cover looks like a Tim Burton movie, but there’s nothing macabre about “Tijuana Sunrise”, one of the singles used to promote The Knife, a slower ska-reggae song, with a great lead-trombone line and a full horn section later on. More nostalgia-themed lyrics here, though now Feldman is focusing on the not-so-good moments, that some things aren’t as good as they used to be – “I’ve been drinking to forget just how good it was, I was drinking with you, then I’m drinking ‘til noon, now I’m drinking by myself”. “Don’t Let Me Go” is the album’s mellow song, a slow and beautiful reggae song again featuring tip-top trombone-playing and possibly Feldman’s best singing ever.

Time for some complaints, though: “Am I Deaf”, the first song released from The Knife back in 2013, sounds far too much like turn-of-the-century Good Charlotte and Sum-41, which personally I can’t stand. “Orthodontist Girl” is only a so-so song without taking into account the freakin’ weird lyrics, i.e. “with your gloves on, it’s like you’re inside me, yeah, it turns me on.” “Liftoff” isn’t a bad song, but it’s way out of place, sort of a reggae song but too overproduced to recognize as one. The lyrics are clever, though, and Nick Hexum guest sings, which is kind of cool because 311 always recorded a reggae song or two for their albums, but overall it doesn’t seem like it belongs. And speaking of lyrics, the chorus for “Say It Out Loud” contains the weakest lyrics on the album – “say it out loud right to my face”, over and over and over again – and the song in general sounds like a poor man’s version of Weezer’s“(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I want You To”, only with a terrible sax solo in the latter half.

As for the ho-hum songs – the good but not overwhelmingly fantastic – I would include “Beacon”, which has possibly the strongest lyrics but musically is, well, ho-hum, and I’d also categorize “Mila” here, a cute song about Feldman’s daughter (remember that Hello, Destiny’s bonus track was “Julian”, about his other kid). Oh and “See You Around,” too, which I earlier described as forgettable because it’s the one song I always forget about.

Still, I say if you can get over the massive lineup overhaul and get past the similarities with the last blink-182 album, this album has more highlights than lowlights. I mean, “Put The Knife Away” is about as strong a pop-punk song as I’ve heard in many, many years, and might be the strongest song on the album. I’m not sure. The Knife has several contenders.

4/5 Stars



Album Review: Chris Fox – “Portly Formed” EP

The cover of Chris Fox’s 6-song EP shows a penciled sketch of a guy – presumably Fox – from the neck down without a shirt on. The guy is overweight, the EP is titled Portly Formed, and the songs are all covers of Fat Wreck Chords songs. Portly…Fat…get it?

I must confess that I listen to Fat bands more than bands on other labels (for no good reason other than that’s what I’m most familiar with) and so when this EP was “recommended” to me, it took all of two seconds to decide to download it.

Good Riddance’s “Stand”, known to punk fans from Physical Fatness Fat Music Volume 3, leads off the album. This was a compilation-only song during a time when many of us listened to these compilations like it was the radio, because the real radio sucked, and music wasn’t abundantly free on the Internet like it is today. Nostalgia abounds listening to this song. Fox’s voice doesn’t have the power of Russ Rankin’s, and it doesn’t take long to realize we’re not listening to a high-budget production, but that doesn’t change the fact that “Stand” is a great song.

The Swingin’ Utters are represented here with their upbeat feel-good tune “Glad”. This is the moment of the EP when one realizes that some of these stripped down “acoustic” versions of punk songs aren’t really all that different from their original versions (after all, The Utters do use acoustic guitar more than a lot of punk bands, though not in the original version of this song). There are no drums here, and Fox’s vocals have less of an edge than Peebucks, but the tempo and the feel are nearly identical.

Fox makes use of a trumpet and trombone in “10 West”, a song first released back in 2003 by the Mad Caddies who also sport a horn section of only trumpet and trombone. Here “10 West” is recorded sans drums, of course, (although, for the record, if we define “acoustic” as unplugged and unaltered, then the drums are generally the only actual acoustic instrument in a punk band) and the guitar part isn’t strictly a ska feel like the Caddies’ version. But again, like the Utters song, this arrangement isn’t terribly different from the original recording.

Somewhat later Fat releases are represented with tracks 4 and 5, first with Dead To Me’s great tune “California Sun”, followed by the Feel Good Moment of the EP with “Pacific Standard Time” from No Use For a Name’s 2008 and final studio album. Like most of the EP, Fox doesn’t alter the mood of any given song. He begins the latter mellow, the most mellow moment of the EP, before opening it up big; fans of NUFAN’s version will feel the entire band even without it there.

The original Fat band closes out Portly Formed. From Lagwagon’s 1997 friends-themed album Fox cheats and merges two songs into one – “Smile”, which most people think is really called “I Hate My Friends”, and “To All My Friends”, featuring the final guitar solo almost identical to Double Plaidinum’s (what a shame Fox couldn’t have snuck some of “Making Friends” into this medley, as well).

Portly Formed will not go down in history as one of the great treasures of acoustic punk rock, but it is a lot of fun, especially if you’re an unabashed Fat-o-phile like me.

3.5/5 Stars



Album Review: Mad Caddies – “Punk Rocksteady”

“Punk Rocksteady” is a neato concept cd. From what I gather, the Mad Caddies and Fat Mike came up with the idea of doing some Rocksteady, Reggae, Ska, etc. covers of classic Punk songs. And, if you come at this cd from the angle of enjoying it for what it is, you’ll love it. Weeks ago, I was on social media and I read that the Mad Caddies did a Reggae cover of Green Day’s She. I listened to it and thought: “Nope. Nice try, but will everyone quit stroking Green Day’s ego? They’re claiming that they are God’s favorite band.” Tho, to listen to the entire “Punk Rocksteady” album, it makes sense..all the songs do. Individually, they are open to criticism…but as a collective they are poignant.

The cover of Bad Religion’s Sorrow is moving, to say the least. The lyrics really work well in the genre setting. A couple years ago I lived in Florida for a winter. I worked at a pizza restaurant with a bunch of Haitian refugees…who listened to Reggae all day long. It was like a Music History/Appreciation class. Sorrow really gives me the same vibe as real Reggae. Seriously, if you kinda don’t give a crap about this sort of thing but wanna be Punk-woke, at least listen to Sorrow from “Punk Rocksteady”.

The second song’s bass is just phenomenal. We all know that the whole Rocksteady/Ska/Reggae realm of music is good for bassists and bass lovers. But Sleep Long is splendiferous. I sat in my car in a parking lot just enveloped in that bass tone. Sure, the rest of the tunes have stellar bass recordings, but Sleep Long just sticks out like a fat female vocalist in a Pop Country video.

The funnest tune is Sink, Florida, Sink. If that doesn’t make you wanna dance, then you probably don’t like dancing.

I dunno…initially, I listened to this cd 3 or 4 times in a row. Not just cuz I have to for this gig…nope. I just really took to it. I was in a mood where I just wanted something uplifting. It was a nice day. Bright enough for sunglasses but not hot enough to sweat while standing around…so I took a drive. Ended up in a parking lot eating chips listening to “Punk Rocksteady”. It seemed to make me agree with the world. I had that “F-it, it’s almost summer…I don’t see any civil unrest..people are just coexisting in harmony from what I can tell…I’ll just listen to this here cd and not worry about what opinions journalists are editorializing about” mentality. It was a fine time. I even had to pick up a family member…who leans Right, so to speak. The album seemed to make him mad. Like it wasn’t American enough to be worthy of listening to. So that made me chuckle to myself. Not that I’m some whiny Leftist that wants to make it to where we can’t laugh at Daniel Tosh’s humor, no. I’m just saying that Punk Rocksteady has the potential to frustrate fools. So yeah. #PunkRock

I then spent a few days not listening to but thinking about the cd. I thought about how I’ve never been a Mad Caddies fan. I always respected them as a band. You know how it goes…some bands are around and you’ve heard a few songs and were like: “Okay. Not bad. Maybe one day I’ll wind up a super-fan.” but that day never comes. Lots of the 3rd Wave Ska was…well…it seemed to linger. Even upon first coming out, bands like the Mad Caddies just seem to linger. They didn’t seem to punctuate anything…just exist knowingly.(Think of how Jughead’s Revenge was to Punk.) I honestly wish I liked them more…along with a lot of the 3rd Wave stuff but it’s just so meh.

After days of not listening to “Punk Rocksteady”, I couldn’t will myself to listen to it. I lost myself to the idea that Punk is basically a traveling carnival. You pay your way to get in to the show, for a few hours you get to act like it’s actually part of reality, and then you leave, go home, and the world isn’t a carnival. I don’t know about you, but I never see punkers. We’re so rare that when I see one of us in public I think: “Why are you out and about? You should be inside. Don’t you know that society hates us?” Sure, we can start Punk bands but what is that other than living in poverty and trying to impress those above glass ceilings? Any unsigned Punk and/or Ska bands that don’t want to burn Fat Wreck and Hellcat to the ground at least a little bit aren’t anti-establishment at all.

Ever since ol’ what’s-his-face became president, I consider poverty differently. I look at most products and think: “Is this more important than feeding the starving?” As neato as “Punk Rocksteady” is, I think the money that went into making it would have been better spent feeding the starving. But, the cd exists. If you go to the Fat Wreck store on their website, you can download the album for $10…or you can buy the cd w/ digital download for $10.

I’ll let you think about that for a moment.

Understand that I have a bit of the Asperger’s Syndrome…so sometimes what makes sense to most people is just lost to me. When I was a younger human being, a cd cost about $12. I got into my own band when I was older than the previous younger. We recorded a cd. I realized that cds cost around $12 cuz you had to pay for recording, legal fees, packaging/distribution, and a few other things. When the MP3 craze took over Pop and helped MTV convince the masses that music isn’t worthy of attention, it seemed like the cost of a digital copy of an album would be much less. Even if the labels/bands were still trying to recoup costs (don’t think about paying $1 for a download of something off Blink 182’s Enema of the State these days…seriously, don’t)….even if recouping is still a concern, wouldn’t the price of packaging/distributing be taken out of the price of digital downloads?

I’m sure you’re like: “Well, logically yes. But people can charge whatever they want for the products they create. That’s capitalism.” Yes, and capitalism is ruining America faster than bipartisanship. I, personally, have contacted pros about this mathematical disaster and they act like I’m crapping on Punk. I’m all like: “Look it: You’re the ones that are supposed to be creating an image of self-sufficiency in the industry. Don’t come at me with terrible math acumen and complain about how song sales aren’t as high as you’d like. Sell your product for a reasonable price and people won’t feel ripped off and complacent, you knuckleheads.” But I sperg. I go nowhere.

So yeah, you can spend a ten dollar bill on digital or click the other button and get an actual physical copy of the cd also…and don’t you dare believe the hype shoved down our throats by the tech companies. People still have cd players. There are people that still have their record players from the 1970s…you gonna tell me that absolutely everyone that ever owned a cd player just up and threw them out because our phones are supercomputers? C’mon.

I woke up this morning and had to run a quick errand. I turned on the local Alternative Rock station in the car and instead of some histrionic, loudmouth morning dj, they were playing Rancid’s Ruby Soho. I guess it set the tone for my day. A blast from the past. Here’s to never having a blast of the present.

The Mad Caddies’ “Punk Rocksteady” is a decent buy…but I’d say it’s only worth $3 digitally…and it’s an album that deserves to be bought on sale. So like $2.25. That’s not me devaluing the songs, no. I think that’s more of a rational valuation of digital music. Charging as much for digital as you would a cd is highway robbery and we punkers have been getting screwed over so much by the pros over the years that we just plain enjoy being ripped off.

“Punk Rocksteady” seems like a cd that could be important to music.

Here’s to overwhelming amounts of importance.

4/5 Stars



Album Review: Turnspit – “Desire Paths”

Holy Crap this year has totally gotten away from me.  It’s almost half over and I feel like I haven’t done a damn thing but work, sleep, and drink.  I was supposed to review Creeper Eternity in Our Arms.  I dunno.  I think enough has been said about that album.  I tried to put pen to paper but could find no motivation.  It didn’t help that during my listening I said to my wife “Don’t these guys remind you of Alkaline Trio.”  She replied, “They remind me of Meat Loaf.”  Ooof.

I don’t know whether it’s Trump in the Whitehouse or what, but it’s just hard to get motivated to do anything.  And nothing is moving me from my inertia.  Finally a beacon of hope.  Midwest Punk Fest in my home town of Bloomington IL.  While going through some of the bands, I stumbled upon Turnspit.  I know Turnspit because they are on Dodgeball and Mike Felumlee of Smoking Popes (Alkaline Trio, Bigger Empty, etc.) is associated with that outfit.  I’ve been meaning to give this a listen and now I’ve got a good reason!  So I start my first review of the year with a band that is playing Midwest Punk Fest and also happens to have a fairly new record, Desire Paths.

Turnspit is a four piece out of Chicago.  They play catchy pop punk alternating between female (Gillian McGhee) and male (Jason Swearingen) vocals.  Dan Tinkler (Drums) and Bradley Davis (Bass) provide the rhythm.  The first thing that will catch your attention as you spin Desire Paths is Gillian McGhee’s powerful voice.  You have to put it up there with the best and I just can’t pin it down who she reminds me of.  Is it Karen O?  Natalie Merchant?  Patti Smith? Erica Freas (RVIVR)?  I’m torn, but safe to say she’s in good company.

Let’s get to the record.  The opener Irish Name puts Gillian’s powerful wail on full display.  She’s hitting some notes here and without losing any musicality.  Should pique most folks interest.  It also has that jump you’d expect from Chicago punk.  That jump probably resulted from the production at Atlas Studios, a Chicago institution.  I’m not sure if the mighty Matt Allison was on the boards for this, but it has that bite and super clean production that he is known for.  No doubt Atlas allows the best of Turnspit to shine through on Desire PathsBreath Taking pops up next and it reminds the listener that Turnspit has two distinctly different vocalists.  This dichotomy really intrigues me because, as Gillian can be sharp and biting, Jason is gruff and low.  Walk Away makes you want to get up and dance, it hearkens back to 80s power pop, you’ll catch the Natalie Merchant vibe previously noted.  Apologies, I have so, so many features both vocalists.  The interchange really works for the song and should get you in the feels if you’ve ever had a rocky relationship.  The title track, Desire Paths, allows Jason to show his vocal chops and you can play the game of who he reminds you of here, Ryan Young, Chuck Ragan?  Skin puts forth an important message about sexual abuse and female empowerment.  I applaud Gillian for having the guts to open up about these issues.  Home is run no more shows Turnspit knows how to bring the punk.  Given gives Jason a chance to open his heart in a jumpy acoustic number.  I don’t need to describe every song on the record!  If you are still reading, go to Dodgeball Records website and give it a listen!

The songs on Desire Paths come strong from beginning to end.  It’s eminently listenable and each track has its own identity.  Turnspit does a great job of keeping to the genre without becoming formulaic.  Desire Paths currently holds a spot in my top 10 of 2018.  Give it a spin.

4/5 Stars



Album Review: Forever Unclean! – “Woof”

Objectively, Woof is a pretty dope cd. Tho, it’s hard to not have personal biases, right? When I first listened to this cd, I was like: “I dunno…the vocals are kinda…well…” The singer doesn’t really hold back. Musically, it’s in that Flatliners and Against Me vein…and it’s definitely contained within that locus…how do I put this?…Forever Unclean fits into that genre. If you are enthralled with that subcategory of Punk, you’ll probably like them. If you hate it cuz it’s mostly derivate garbage, you might like Forever Unclean because they aren’t from the USA. I’m not saying that all nationalism is toxic. It just seems that American bands take potential and wash it down the fame drain and bands from other countries tend to not have that option because their countries don’t treat famous people like infallible gods.

These dudes are from Denmark…and ever since I read The Nordic Theory of Everything by Anu Partanen, I’ve had a greater respect for anything Nordic. Forever Unclean seems to have a lot of potential and as much as I don’t like trusting my intuition (because Punk has crapped all over hope for so long), I wanna allow myself to dig them. The singing has grown on me, a bit. Woof sounds like it was recorded in a studio but the engineer didn’t really know what to do except point mics and hit record. 311’s Music sounds this way. Like it was half-assed cuz they really didn’t know what to do with it…and they hoped that half-assing it would allow it to be everything it is, not what it is in the mind of idealistic musicians. (Take it as a compliment.)  Nothing is really obfuscated or aggrandized and it’s not burdened by clarity. I checked out some of their old stuff and Woof sounds like a logical progression. Everything is tighter, it sounds better, the songwriting is maturing.

But yeah, it’s definitely subgenre-specific. It’s obvious they pay attention to how other bands write their songs and kinda take more than bit of inspiration from them. They definitely seem to have their own ideas on music, but aren’t really doing anything outta left field, so to speak. Like I said, the vocals take some getting used to. They’re kinda wacky and high pitched…initially they brought to mind Boy Hits Car, Billy Talent, and even Coheed and Cambria…but it’s not all high singing. He does a lot of the growl/half-scream-yell/ooah-aaaooo stuff that seems to be popular these days in certain circles.

Anything I can really say about what didn’t tickle my fancy, so to speak, is most-likely obvious to Forever Unclean. Fitting into a genre isn’t a sin. Singing somewhat like other people isn’t terrible…especially if you sing on key. Lyrically, it hit home with me…we deal with similar crap…humans do. They aren’t loquacious, but pithiness is good. Woof seems like the cd you could blare outside while weeding the yard or having a bbq and it would aggravate your neighbors. “Confounding delinquents!” It’s melodic, but wacky….aggressive but not aggressive enough to really make your douchey neighbors ask you to turn it down or call the cops on ya.

So I suppose I like Woof…I guess I like Forever Unclean. Apparently, they spell their name with an exclamation point at the end. So it’s Forever Unclean! Currently, it’s 7:36am, so I’m not ready for an exclamation point.

[Later on]
It’s now 3:54pm. I was thinking about Woof as I was mowing the lawn and I thought about Forever Unclean! as a subgenre-specific band…and how it seems like bands leave the fan empty when they land a decent deal and start touring and end up changing their style cuz they get old, have kids, or lose that angst cuz they fulfilled their purpose by getting on a label…that kind of shit leaves us fans almost on the rebound. Like when we get broken up with and wind up dating someone just like our ex. (Phenomena, am I right?) Anyway, I wonder if Forever Unclean! simply fills a hole gouged out of me by those bands similar to them that totally crapped the bed. Is it bad to be the rebound? Surely, many people have met their eventual spouses on a mere rebound. Many children were born because of rebounding. Then again, lots of times that rebound just serves as a reminder of loss. It’s not uncommon to hear of an emotional connection to music. What is a relationship if not guided by emotions? Hmph. Heck, it seems lots of genre-specific bands just serve to pick up the slack cuz bands get big and do things we just don’t expect. I mean: Brand New did it…and there are bands that sound just like their earlier works…and only their earlier works. ALSO, when bands start out, lots of the time they’re just kinda doing whatever until they find their sound. So like: I guess all that really matters is any given cd. Not a discography. Not a genre. Just a single collection of songs…as a snapshot of a time in history. Sure, that gives way to a lot of philosophical uncertainty…uncertainty that many may not even pick up on…but like: If you, a punker, were stuck listening to Forever Unclean!’s Woof, you’d hate it way less than getting stuck listening to Pop garbage. For that moment, you’d feel okay knowing that it could be a lot worse. Even if that sentiment is ubiquitous these days and it seems to sit on chests and eat away at civility like a cancer…well, I dunno…perhaps the optimists are right. Everything is 100% awesome.

Personally, I’d give this cd a 3.4 out of 5. Not a 68%, mind you…cuz that’s almost failing by Melvindale standards. I figure 3 is in the center of 5. [1,2,3,4,5]  Three is the center number. It means neutral. Anything larger than 3 is enough to make me smile. And, like you, I hate music with a passion…because I love music with a passion. (Crap, I’m ranting.) Just listen to the cd and decide for yourself. All you can really gain from any sort of review is if someone hated it or not. I hate Woof very little. It ended better than Alkaline Trio’s My Shame is True.

3.5/5 Stars



Album Review: Tiny Moving Parts – “Swell”

So I get the nod from Dave Buck at Dying Scene…I can be the new writer. Am I geeked? Sure. Overwhelmed? Yeah. I wonder to myself, tho, how am I to write about the Punk world when it’s been such a let-down over the last forever that I’ve kinda just let myself get lost in other musical interests? As a guitarist, much of Punk and Ska and…well, that whole encompassment…it’s boring. I get the simplicity. I really do. My first Punk band was simple. I only really played power chords. But that was when I was 18…I’m 35 now. I need guitar amazingness to keep focused. I listened to a lot of Metalcore there for a while because at least those guitarists tried to play better than novicely. In my heart, I knew that Punk would catch up. But it’s like: I’d watch videos of metalhead guitarists that had only been playing a year or 2 doing advanced fretwork and then listen to Punk and it was lacking. Then, punkers were all like: “That’s not what Punk’s about. It’s about the rage…” or something like that. I’m sure you’ve all heard the arguments.

Always with the arguments!
C’mon, people.

These “pro” Punk bands don’t play in 5. I mean: Blink 182 released a song in 6/8 and it was so profound to Punk that they had to name it 6/8. This is where Punk is eventho Between the Buried and Me have been around forever. The simple song structuring is pathetic. It’s like bands don’t realize they can write songs without 3 choruses. The Punk world is so closed off to the external music world that they’re like those republicans that act like homosexulity and marijuana usage aren’t modestly prevalent.

So yeah…I kinda gave up on Punk. So many bands release a couple good cds and take a new direction. Like The Flatliners. They straight-up gave up on Ska and people act like that isn’t treason. I, as a Punk fan, was completely bruised by the willful trajectory of Punk bands that I quit listening to it. Tho, I still loved the genre. I kept looking for more and more obscure, eclectic forms. I stumbled upon Bomb The Music Industry and really liked some of that…but, once again, it went huge and Pop…by huge, I mean epic. That whole Jeff Rosenstock project seemed to blow its brains out. It was beautiful, but like The Beatles, it just makes me think: “Well, what the fuck is the point of that shit?”

Here’s to art, tho.

I ended up getting into The Front Bottoms. There was that post-Against Me thing that happened when The Menzingers were the hip thang. You remember. (I know my timeline is kinda wonky but like I said, I was sick of Punk. Didn’t pay it much attention and the attention I did pay it was sporadic, at best.) I felt like The Front Bottoms were Punk on a more visceral level than what I had heard in a long time. But, as we all found out, they just wanna record over-processed crap now. Maybe they were never Punk at all.

I wish these Pop Punk bands would realize that you can’t always play to teenage girls. Teenage girls grow up into adult women.

But, music is timeless.
So, I’m the idiot.

I listened to so many bands…trying them out…all different levels of Punk…I’d spend hours of my unemployed life clicking videos on YouTube and meandering thru Bandcamp…I was literally bingeing on music and it all sucked. Then I found Punch Brothers and was completely stupefied by Chris Thile’s talent and thought: “Well, Punk and Ska are absolutely retarded. As a musician, I have to pay attention to this. Everything else can fuck off.”

Time passed.
More time passed.

Then I seen a picture of Tiny Moving Parts. Pretty sure it was thumbnail size.  And I knew they were the ones to listen to. You can call them whatever genre you like, but they epitomize Punk, to me. The Misfits suck compared to them. Green Day sucks compared to them. Less Than Jake…well, I wouldn’t go that far.

This was back in 2013. The cd I was listening to non-stop was This Couch is Long & Full of Friendship. As a guitarist, I was like: “I love you Dylan. Thank you for doing what you are doing.” Cuz like: It’s hard to imbue advanced guitar techniques into a genre where they aren’t already being used. 2nd year metalheads can fingertap and play in 5 because it’s already been done a billion times. You have to listen to Calculating Infinity at least once as a metalhead, just like you have to listen to Dookie at least once as a punker. Tiny Moving Parts put it all together…as far as creative tapping goes. Does it sound like traditional Punk? No. I’m glad it doesn’t. We can’t usher in the next great era of Punk and have it sound like heyday Punk. Influence causes evolution.

Anyway…each new Tiny Moving Parts cd is better than the last. In the good way. They always show an intellectual progression. I don’t know about you, but I need that. Not just lyrically. But compositionally, too. Now with Swell, the guys have come to the level of “we’re obviously going to be legends…you watch.” The tapping part in Feel Alive where the vocals are: ‘I want to feel alive all the time’ is the most beautifully poignant section of music I have ever heard…and I have listened to Oh My Darling Clementine by The Sweptaways on repeat for well over an hour. I watched the playthru for Feel Alive and the guitar part isn’t particularly hard, as far as tapping goes…but the entirety just leaves me speechless.

I like the line in Smooth It Out that goes: ‘I will starve myself, I will do anything to help’. In this time of great political uproar, I doubt any politician would go that far for their country. The honesty of Tiny Moving Parts is like nothing else. I could quote them for days, pointing out just how genuine they are…I think they show a vulnerability that people are terrified of. The mask of Punk…yeah, it’s all bullshit. All the belligerent philosophizing…bullshit. What I take from Swell is peace and an undeniable energy that fuels me to live life more receptively. I could sit here and type up a treatise about the musicianship of the entire band. No, they aren’t Prog and they do tend to stay within reach of common structuring but it seems they don’t need to be anything other than their own expectorating catharses, so to speak. Liike 311, they do so much with the few minutes they do take for a song that any musician cannot argue their talent.

Swell sounds really good, too. From a production standpoint, it’s dope. They put effort into it, but didn’t saturate anything too much. They just presented the songs they wrote. I hope they keep that for the rest of their career. And if they do wind up getting sonically meh, I hope I don’t hear it. I hope I’m deaf to any kind of over-producing.

I know Swell came out like 5 months ago. But it’s about the only thing that’s really new to me as far as Punk goes (much love to Days N Daze). Surely, I’d like to find myself deep in the scene. I’d like to start going to concerts again. I know that sometimes you gotta see a band live before you really get em. I lack perspective. It’s cool, tho. Voids are there to be filled.

5/5 Stars



Album Review: Astpai – “True Capacity”

Austria’s Astpai play punk rock with a healthy dose of Kid Dynamite snarl. It’s melodic, it’s loud, and most of all, it wants to be heard. Think of all those bands in the mid-aughties who started drawing on the melodic side of hardcore and post—Make Do And Mend, Title Fight, and Hostage Calm, to name a few—bands that took to the musicianship of Hot Water Music and Fugazi but kept their feet firmly in the world of traditional songwriting. Astpai is a step once more removed from those post-hardcore roots, but it’s hard for me not to think of them as kin. True Capacity is melodic punk that wants to hit hard, to give you all its got, and have you singing along with every word.

A more direct comparison for Astpai would be something like The Flatliners. They have a similar feel of heightened melodic punk, where they take from hardcore sounds but not structures. True Capacity opens with “Rotten Bait”—beginning with some soft arpeggios (oh—how I miss 2010) and going harder and louder with sharp guitar changes and gang vocals. “Lottery” follows up with a more mid-tempo stomper, the line “when it rains it always pours,” rising above the distortion.

“Best Years” is one of True Capacity’s highlights, with the memorable opening lyric, “My name rhymes with the mess I let you drown in.” Syncopated guitar notes add tension and highlight the fact that Astpai is aiming to do more than push their songs through the chord progression meat grinder. These little details pop up all over True Capacity, again, in “Best Years,” they finish with ethereal whoas; “Falling Trees” features some spidery lead work; and while these flourishes aren’t particularly groundbreaking, they help to keep the album from being a chug-fest.

The title track is the hardest of the bunch, opening with a fuzzed out bassline that sounds like something spat out of Hell. Accompanied by gravel-coated vocals, the track has a lean, mean hardcore feel that becomes almost full 90s post when the guitars come in. Like, total Quicksand shit. Venomous to the core, shaking with rage. It’s in stark contrast to the rest of the songs on the album, but it does stand out.

Astpai are good at what they do, and if you’re a devotee of this particular style, you’ll probably find a lot to dig. Here, there are songs with big choruses and competent arrangements delivered with an emotional range in line with what we expect from today’s melodic punk. True Capacity is a good album, but doesn’t do quite enough to push is boundaries and carve out its own identity in a pretty well-tread subgenre of modern punk to be great. That being said, there are moments on True Capacity that shine, and if you’re eager for more of the sounds you love, Astpai has the tracks and the chops.

3.5/5

 



EP Review: And Protector & Hollow Suns – “APHS Split”

Ah, always so great to see two up and coming talented bands releasing music together. And Protector is an emo/punk group out of Shizuoka, Japan that evoke feelings of early Title Fight, whilst Hollow Suns is a more traditional punk-rock outfit leaning into the rock side of things. Both bands have been tearing up the local Japanese scene, both with their own tours and supporting international bands, and now they’re releasing a 4 track split together.

The APHS Split represents the two sides of the bands excellently, whilst they seem to have found inspiration in each other to further their own sounds. And Protector has a smoother groove to their sound at times, but never sacrificing their own style, whilst Hollow Suns incorporates harsher elements in that go well with And Protector’s two tracks. This gentle melding of style makes listening to the two sides of the split a wonderfully sleek experience.

And Protector has this amazing early Title Fight esque sound as stated above, mixing some more dreamlike melodies with desperate cries and still finding a way to be energetic and even chaotic at times. As is expected from And Protector the vocals are fantastic, from the flow between the screams to the gang vocals throughout “Urei”, but take nothing away from the rest of the band. These two tracks feel like And Protector at their best; energetic, emotional, and a beautifully crafted sound.

On to the second half, Hollow Suns have a smoother sound, with the head bopping “Back In My Head” being incredibly catchy and “Believe In” being a slower and calmer build without sacrificing any of the fun. “Back In My Head” also features some harsher vocal work at times, the dipping in and out complimenting the And Protector half of the split in a fantastic way. The Hollow Suns side is certainly catchy, with lyrics that are easy to sing along to and it feels great to do just that, two of the most fun tracks the band has come out with.

It’s only four tracks, but this is the sort of split that shows off the best in the two bands and builds an immense amount of excitement for a full length project from one or both of them. This does exactly what a split should do, and the two bands come out looking incredibly strong. The local Japanese punk scene has these amazing talented acts, among many more, that have been growing and developing over the past few years; it’s become a scene with so much promise and I’m looking forward to seeing the scene grow even more.

Below you can watch the two music videos released for the split (And Protector – “Ghost Town” ; Hollow Suns – “Believe In”). The APHS Split is set to drop on June 6th in Japan.