Search Results for "Album Review"

Album Review: The Menzingers – “Hello Exile”

The Menzingers were the first band I could truly say was my own. I was twenty-one when On the Impossible Past came out, and looking back, I’m not sure there was ever a better time to be that young. For myself and others, the Menzingers had just written an album that could be considered as monumental as Reinventing Axl Rose or Caution. And since then, they’ve toured endlessly and continued releasing quality albums. Sure, they’re not as fast and screamy as they used to be, but they’ve settled into a comfortable niche within the greater world of punk and indie, and more importantly, they occupy this space with consistently poignant songcraft. 

Hello Exile follows up After the Party, which in a lot of ways, was as career-defining as On the Impossible Past. This makes for a challenging release, as how many great albums does any band have in them? What’s always impressed me about the Menzingers is how they’re able to crank out so many of these great songs, and really, Hello Exile is no different. The songwriting is there, just as before (maybe too much as before, actually), and the melodies are just as sticky. Is this album a masterpiece? Well, no. After the Party and On the Impossible Past still lay the best claim to that elusive victory, but Hello Exile is no slouch, and while it may be divisive, it still brings the heart and lyricism that its fans crave. 

That being said, the greatest strengths and weaknesses of Hello Exile lay within its songwriting. The Menzingers have always been a songwriting-forward band, and as such, I think that’s a fair place to start, with both my praise and my criticism. Here, we have the band progressing into exciting new heights, and falling back onto old crutches. Opening song “America (You’re Freaking Me Out)” is one of my favorites of the album and it’s also the punkiest. Which means, if you’re reading between the lines—that no, this is not the album where the Menzingers’ reclaim their title as a raw-throated punk rock group. The song itself is a driving force though and it’s nice to see the band react politically (“what kind of monster did our parents vote for?”). They’ve always been a thoughtful band, and they again prove that in spades, even dropping a line referencing totalitarian Vichy France. “America (You’re Freaking Me Out)” continues a career-spanning tradition of opening their albums with absolute bangers. 

“Anna” is an equally great song, but it’s also where the band begins to look a little exposed. Here, is a wonderful track about a long-distance relationship, featuring a helluva hook. But here, we start seeing the limited subject matter inherent in the Menzingers’ songwriting. With lyrical references to Nabokov in his back pocket, we’ve all grown accustomed to guitarist/singer Greg Barnett as a deep literary reader. I’m pretty sure I’ve even read an interview where he mentions wanting to tackle writing a novel. These are awesome aims for anyone, let alone the primary songwriter in a punk band. But all artists can fall into the trap of repeating themselves. We’ve seen far too many songs about growing up, being reckless in Bukowski-certified ways, and doomed relationships. If I were Barnett’s writing coach right now, I’d be telling him he needs to push himself into new perspectives and subject matter. He needs to take an inventory of his common tropes and start building beyond them. Because, right now, it’s okay—“Anna” is one of my favorite songs on the album. But how many more “Anna”’s can we take before we start seeing the dove hidden in his sleeve?

“High School Friend” trods-well on familiar notes of nostalgia as well, but it does so with a sense of purpose, setting up the album’s theme of growing up before your time. This is, in a way, a sequel album to After the Party, it’s thematic mate. “Hello Exile,” the title track, is actually one of the stranger tracks I’ve seen the Menzingers do in recent years, and because of that, it has grown on me as one of the highlights of the new album. It has a swanky, cocktails-in-first-class feel throughout its opening, growing into a bluesy, Americana drenched singalong. It’s one of the best songs on the album and features some of Barnett’s most vivid imagery to date. “Strain Your Memory” is probably the song that most fans will be wishing the band would write more of, and it’s easy to understand why. In an album of plaintive mid-tempo jams, this is the mid-album rager that’ll get bodies moving in the pit. Of course, as is standard, it comes with a melody that fits easily on the throat and tastes sweet on the tongue. 

It’s not fair to paint Hello Exile as a riskless album though, because it does actually takes some large strides forward. “I Can’t Stop Drinking” is a great example of this. At five minutes and ten seconds, it’s the longest track on the album. I like that it challenges some of the Menzingers’ repeated imagery (“…and we drove back drunk through the busy city streets.”) with what is an ironically sober look at themselves. Greg Barnett is rightly lauded for his short story approach to songwriting, often taking his lyrics behind the eyes of another character. But, “I Can’t Stop Drinking” feels cutting, personal, and painful. I hope that both approaches survive into the band’s future, but it serves as a stark reminder of where all these pretty words are born. 

“Farewell Youth” completes the album’s arc with its chorus, “I was always hanging out with the older kids.” It feels like the Menzingers closing a chapter on themselves. These guys are just a little bit older than me, so probably feeling pretty similar things as they’re entering their thirties. They’ve spent over a decade as the Menzingers, a single unit with no personnel changes. That’s an impressive feat, especially while staying grounded enough to keep their audience engaged with their heartfelt melancholy. “Farewell Youth” doesn’t feel sad though, and it echoes a sentiment from the album’s opener, where Barnett croons, “Oh, how do I steer my early 30’s/ Before I shipwreck, before I’m 40.” The keyword is steer. There is control present, an eagerness for the future that can’t quite eclipse what’s passed behind them. It’s bittersweet, but as this album closes a chapter, I’m interested in where the ship takes us next. 

As so far, I’ve talked mostly about Barnett’s contributions to the album; these songs have come to define the sound of the band for many, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Tom May’s contributions to the album. He’s only got three songs on the album, but they’re three of the best he’s written, “Portland” being my personal highlight. I have mixed feelings here because I believe that the voice of a band is a difficult thing to navigate, because bands, by their very nature, are a collaborative art. But, because of the relative lack of Tom May’s songs, the cohesiveness of the album diminishes. There’s already a jolting difference in songcraft between the two writers (which I believe was at its finest point back in the OTIP days, as far as interplay and shared aims are concerned). One is nostalgic and wistful, carrying the band toward a more poetic direction. The other is sharp and declarative, the punkier heart of the band. I’d like to see these collaborate deeper in their compositions, combining their voices to do away with the notion of Greg-songs or Tom-songs, and just write Menzingers songs. 

So, what else can I say about a new Menzingers album? 

How about this—the biggest fuck up the Menzingers have committed is being good enough to become anyone’s favorite band. This is a review filled with nitpicks and suggestions, it gives praise and criticism to songs in equal breaths. Why? Because the Menzingers mean more to me than any other band, and with that affection, comes a sense of ownership. The Menzingers are my band. They’re the ones I learned to drink to, traveled hours to see, and became the go-to singalong for my group of friends. If all those sad-sack, Barnett-penned relationship songs have taught us anything, it’s that we can’t help but pick apart the things we love. Hello Exile shows the band stretching their limbs, ending an era with maturity and verve. It features some new tricks and also features some we’ve seen before. But for a band tied so much to so many personal times and places, I’m excited for a new sonic bookmark. 

4/5*

*This score is meaningless. Listen to the album. 



Album Review: Teenage Bottlerocket: “Teenage Bottlerocket vs. Human Robots”

What were you doing in your spare time in 7th Grade? I was desperately trying (and failing!) to learn blink-182 and My Chemical Romance songs on bass guitar, and wondering why all the cool kids wouldn’t be my friends on MySpace. I’m guessing most of you weren’t releasing your first split 7-inch on Fat Wreck Chords like Milo Carlisle has done. As the son of Teenage Bottlerocket’s Ray Carlisle, he’s already spent years being surrounded by the best teachers in punk rock, and boy does it show on these couple tracks.

The first two tracks on this split 7-inch will be familiar to big Bottlerocket fans. Track 1: “Olivia Goes to Bolivia” first appeared on a flexi-disk for New Noise Magazine in February 2019. Bassist Miguel Chen wrote the track about his baby daughter Olivia (who features on the track too – cute!). Track 2: “Everything to Me” appears on the bands’ newest album, Stay Rad. Both tracks are adorable odes to the band members’ offspring – fitting for the record – as well as super-catchy, punk anthems, as expected from Teenage Bottlerocket.

Let’s face it though, this record is all about Human Robots. As Ray said in the press release for the record, “It wasn’t hard getting his band together, because Milo plays all the instruments and sings on the two songs he wrote. I guess it’s a one-man band (yes, he has no friends).” Which is a pretty INSANE accolade for anyone, let alone a pre-teen in my opinion (the one-man band thing, not the no friends thing. Having no friends is an easy accomplishment, lemme tell you). 

“Step on ‘Em All” is 45-seconds of pure old-skool punk rawk rage. With thrashing guitars and angry AF lyrics, this track sounds like a cross between the Ramones and late 80s NYHC.  

“I Want to Hang Out With You” could be a Bottlerocket song. They probably wish it was a Bottlerocket song, but Milo got there first. It’s a simple, catchy memorable punk rock song with a chorus that’ll have you singing along as soon as you’ve heard it. Also, you can only imagine Ray’s face when he first heard his young son sing the “I wanna make out with you/ I wanna get expelled with you” lyrics of the chorus. 

It really is incredible that the little dude is so talented at a young age – these songs rock HARD. There should be a few Fat Wreck bands watching their backs right now – Milo has the potential to take over the genre in a few years.

You can buy the 7-inch in the Fat Wreck Chords store here, or stream/buy it on Bandcamp here. Best $5 you’ll have spent in a long time. 

5/5 Stars



Album Review: The Planet Smashers “Too Much Information”

Earlier this year Canadian ska punks The Planet Smashers released their ninth studio album Too Much Information, which also corresponds with their twenty-fifth anniversary as a band. This album finds them continuing to expand upon their signature mix of upbeat two tone ska and punk.

The album abruptly starts with the titular “Too Much Information” as a bouncing horn line greets you without a proper introduction. In a song about the potential for oversharing via social media it is nice to get a sound that was massively popular before the advent of said media platforms. It drops an early English Beat meets the Police vibe that is ridiculously catchy. This sound is further explored with “Aim High” and “Going Out Solo” a couple of songs later.

“Break My Neck (A Love Song)” follows with what is arguably the best song on the album. In 2016 lead singer Matt Collyer fractured his cervical spine, he then used this to poetically pen a love song. “I may break my neck, but I will never break your heart” he croons in a way that is more intrinsically emotional than the rest of the album. The honesty on display is highly personal and it is obvious that this song is more than just another love song. Throughout the album the organ is featured, but not more perfectly than on this number. It is a bouncier sound that lends a little brevity to the heaviness of the lyrics.

The Planet Smashers still deliver on their classic high energy fun music with songs like “Brain Freeze” the product of being betrayed by a delicious treat, “Superfan” which is an ode to fans of ska still waiting for their fourth wave, and “Hookie” a banger about skipping work and having fun. This time the more playful “Light in Your Smile” cranks up the reggae side, and features some phenomenal drum work. However they do experiment and explore their craft a little with songs like “Good Vibes” and “Light in Your Smile”. The first being a clapping and drum heavy march that stands out on the album for how different it feels. However it seems like it would be a fan favorite in a live setting as it has the ability to draw the crowd into the production. Where “Light in Your Smile” is a playful reggae love song which again puts the drums at the forefront but this time with a margarita on the beach feel.

Too Much Information is a super clean sounding album, the horns are big and bright, the bass and drums sound deep and resonant, and the highlight is the organ which add a layer that really make these songs stand out. Combine this with lyrics that are humorous at times, and emotional at others and you get an album that moves both your heart and your feet.

4.5/5 Stars



Album Review: Ink Bomb – “Fiction”

Intelligent song-writing is present on this record of truth. Dutch act, Ink Bomb, take the punk formula and raise hairs and hell. Within a few minutes, when the album Fiction blasts the cobwebs, friction breaks loose, and those turbulent lyrics draw in attention and interest rapidly. The lyrics describe doom and fear. The world is in disarray, and Fiction is a compendium of punk scores tuned in like a TV aerial into the core of drama.

The guitar strokes are always fundamental and Fiction is an exploration of diverse chords. Instrumentation is pivotal to a band which utilise every aching moment. Delivering these pounding songs is their calling. By conveying through the brazen lyrics, they imprint their stories quickly, chronicling the times when hope escaped them, when hurt burrowed profoundly.

The members of Ink Bomb want to breach above the top layer. They don’t want to hit the mainstream, but they crave to reach the top floor. This is not a port of call, but their hearts beat for justification. Writing these words takes time, but they can be misjudged or placed aside. Ink Bomb’s ability at creating lyrics that are poignant is a talent in itself. From the start, the poetry may consume, but it’ll leave a lasting impression.

Fiction sparks with Brittle. A song which is fast-paced and charged. The chugged out guitar parts offer abrasiveness and loud moments. Scourge explains to us the decline of the world and warped reality. The digital age is reaching supremacy. Midnight In The Desert is an intelligent assessment of mental instability. Happiness is distant. Dreams are cut up strips of fear. Behind the guitars is a bubbling bassline and quick fired drumbeats. Cauterize is an emotional affair. Its stripped back, it’s raw and cathartic. Enemies are spotlighted, pinpointed and ready for a fiery wrath.
Ink Bomb are supremely talented. They’re a band expressing themselves fully. With their collection Fiction, they look for an act of kindness and a more stable world.

4.5/5 Stars



Album Review: Knocked Loose – “A Different Shade of Blue”

Hardcore, for me, has always been relegated to the sidelines. I like hardcore just fine, and every once in a while I find something that truly resonates with me—but for the most part, hardcore is something I revisit a couple of times a year and them subsequently move on from. It’s powerful, adrenaline-pumping stuff, but I never really got the culture surrounding it, so I’ve always stayed at arm’s length, despite my dalliances. Knocked Loose are the sort of genre darlings that make waves big enough that even melodic punk folks like myself get to feel the ripple. Based on the buzz of the hivemind, these guys are huge and I should be paying attention; they’re bringing something to hardcore that is new, or they’re performing it with the intensity turned up a couple of notches. Maybe. I don’t know. I listen to Tragedy and Comeback Kid four times a year, so I have no idea what, if any of that, is true. But I do know their new album is A Different Shade of Blue, and that despite being somewhat unfamiliar with the tropes of the heavier side of the genre (continually thinking: isn’t hardcore supposed to sound like Minor Threat?), the music comes off as powerful, venomous stuff.

If I were to outline Knocked Loose’s sound I’d describe it as a focused cacophony. It’s wild and unhinged, noisy and loud—but with a strong sense of rhythmic hooks, both in their vocal lines and riffage. The songs are full of forward momentum and righteous rage, with jaw-dropping breakdowns (see: “Belleville”) that play with dissonance as much as melody. Not to say that Knocked Loose is a melodic hardcore band per se, but they know how to write a song and make it memorable, even in such an absurdly heavy, beatdown-influenced arena. 

Which is all the more impressive considering the rather narrow sonic range of the genre. Still, Knocked Loose manage to knock out chugger after chugger, swapping from groovy headbangers to high note dissonance to metallic riffing—all while maintaining the singular identities of their songs. “In the Walls” features all of these and more, all led by the throat-shredding scream of vocalist Bryan Garris, who may be the X-factor that propelled Knocked Loose to the top in the first place. Throughout the album, his vocals are unmistakably passionate. There’s been a shift in heavier genres in the last couple years that have strived to make screaming as sustainable and healthy as possible—the influence of vocal coaches and vocalists who want a career that lasts longer than a season. It’s a commendable drive—ultimately, no one should destroy their body for the sake of kids being able to hit each other in a pit—but oftentimes, the end result is a crisp, articulate noise devoid of the volatility of the noise it mimics. I don’t know if Garris is screaming healthily or not, but I do know that it sounds like he means every word that’s coming out of his mouth. And in hardcore, where authenticity is a currency, selling that intensity to your audience is paramount. 

A Different Shade of Blue is a sophomore album. And as a hardcore meerkat who pops out of his burrow just enough to know Code Orange Kids is now just Code Orange, I’m experiencing Knocked Loose for the very first time. What I’ve seen and heard is a band of incredible energy, playing heavy-ass music, and executing it with underrated creativity. Knocked Loose may not be the poet-bards of hardcore, but they’re not trying to be. This is a band trying to be nasty heavy—and shit, man, what can I say? They succeed. 

 

4.5/5



Album Review: Good Grief – “Square One”

The pop-punks from the Ibaraki Prefecture in Japan are back, Good Grief bringing what could be the best pop-punk release of the year in mini-album Square One. From the moment the mini-album begins, with an emotional spoken-word acoustic track reminiscent of how After Tonight began their iconic first-and-only album, there’s this special feeling surrounding it.

The boys in Good Grief have this incredible energy, which is translated into their music. As soon as the intro ends we’re brought into the track “Forever,” a pop-punk banger, complete with bright guitar work and gang vocals that just beg to be sang along with. The ending line of “I spend another night alone” slows things down to a brief sombre moment, but the energy is kicked right back up again with “Canvas.”

“Canvas” is another impressively crafted pop-punk gem, with some tasty melodies bringing us towards the shining center of the release. “The Paul,” followed by “Rotting In My Chest,” strikes me as quite probably my favorite pop-punk tracks in quite a long time. The Paul hits the ground running, leaning on the easycore influence quite a few Japanese pop-punk bands have. Yastin’s delivery of “This is my life!” hits hard in the middle of “The Paul,” then a final “YEAH” to finish off the track brings that intense energy up to boil.

“Rotting In My Chest” is everything you could want from a pop-punk song, calling on early Knuckle Puck and Real Friends with an iconic sound they grab hold of and make their own in a beautiful way. It’s one of those tracks that you can’t help but have on replay all day. “I hope you remember” stands out as that line you can’t help but sing along with, brings back how their track “Home” from a previous EP stood out as that endlessly singable tune.

Following that killer midsection is a nice reprieve, a gentle acoustic track in “Delete.” The flow of the mini-album is pretty spot on, and winds down with “Delete” into the finale of “Wasted Miles,” beginning with twinkly guitars but quickly working into their sound, making a nice bit of contrast. The flow of the track has the aura of some punkier emo tracks with the dips and rises, ending with passion, looking back on past mistakes.

Japanese pop-punk is a beautifully flourishing scene at a local level, with a lot of creativity and expression shown through the bands that work incredibly hard to build the very scene they love. In influence the scene sits somewhere around the Defend Pop Punk era, but drawing on elements of easycore, emo, and hardcore, Japanese pop-punk is creatively growing impressively. Good Grief always bring quality in catchy and emotional punk music, but Square One marks a step forward from there, honing their skills and putting together something really special. Don’t sleep on this!

Square One releases on September 8th. You can stream the mini-album below.



Short/Fast/Loud: Lost Love – “Glenn Spaghetti Legs”

Montreal’s Lost Love came out swinging last year with Good Luck Rassco, an album that I thought showed great songwriting instincts as well as a honed-in power punk sound. It was good stuff, the kind of stuff you want to hear coming out of small bands—the kind of music that makes you think: maybe in a couple of years, when all my favorite bands have broken up, the wheel of punk will continue to turn. 

While this isn’t quite Lost Love’s ghost-of-Christmas-future, it is a solid two-song EP that shows them growing into their sound. “Glenn Spaghetti Legs,” which is technically the title track, reads like something between the Loved Ones, Weezer, and Jeff Rosenstock. Think chugging guitars, poppy fretwork, and big hooks. It’s all delivered with lyrics that feel close to the heart and accordingly, performed with emotional gravitas. 

“Ontarien Demande” has some killer woah-ohs and a sticky lyric (“I’m drinking but I can’t get drunk enough.”), making for a catchy sibling to its predecessor. And I hear you when you say: “is two songs really a notable release?” I agree, it’s hardly a full meal, but it’s hooky, sunshiney, and would go great on a end-of-the-summer mix. Substantial or not, Glenn Spaghetti Legs is two songs from an up and comer worthy of your attention. 

Check out:

 



Album Review: The Trusty Snakes – “New American Frontier”

My eternal affection for the Taxpayers is well documented. While they were active, they had a certain magic to their music—a gonzo, anything goes approach with a rascally dash of political storytelling. They always knew who’s thumb they were under, and they made it their mission to meet it with a revolutionary shank. The Taxpayers have since dissipated, at least for now, but their members live on and continue to take on interesting projects. The latest of these interesting projects is the Trusty Snakes, which shares all of its members with the late, great Taxpayers, but take their music in a decidedly less punk direction. New American Frontier is an ode to country music, of all things, but it twangs and bangs with the best of them.

There’s more crossover between punk and country than we typically consider, even if both genres go after entirely different demographics. They’re both, at their best, music of the people—the downtrodden, the blue-collar, the average proletariat. They document these experiences through song. Through the years, punk rock has even adopted country’s popularly attributed melancholy—reveling in “woman done me wrong” songs with just as much heartache and half as much twang. The Trusty Snakes pull from an era of country that has been passed by for pop-production and star-studded duets—the end result is a joyful, sometimes winking, throwback with songs good enough to lasso even the most rigid punk purist. 

To the artists’ credit, there’s a fine line to walk with a project like this. A certain level of awareness is required to acknowledge: that yes, these are punks playing country, and that yes, it’s at least a little funny. But also, with that comes the difficulty of not turning in an album of parody, which makes for an insubstantial, and transparent release. Luckily, I think the Trusty Snakes handle this well, and deliver a sincere effort at the genre, while leaning enough into their country-fied subject matter to keep it lively and self-aware. This isn’t a silly album, but it does have fun; and in spite of that, there are some moments of downright transcendence. Their somber cover of “Can I Sleep In Your Arms?” with its hair-raising harmonies are testament enough. 

The Trusty Snakes, by taking on country, also get the rare opportunity to rewrite it in their own image, which is an interesting perspective shift for the genre. “Ain’t Gonna Change” documents the cycle of violence that surrounds an alcoholic’s weekly debauchery. The plainspoken manner of songwriting makes for a rather stark point of view, and by giving a voice to his victims (“Why said the children? Why said his woman? Why said his momma and pop?”), it paints a picture of inevitable small-scale tyranny, condemned even further in the song’s bridge. “Troubled Times” ends the album with a big, let’s come together singalong, which acts as the album’s formal thesis. It’s political, but also personal, it has the homespun comfort of a get-together with neighbors and friends. And here is where we see the true endgame of the Trusty Snakes—in the stirring gospel harmonies of country music—as reclamation of a voice. 

And that’s ultimately what makes New American Frontier such a wonderful experiment. It has a vision to it that stretches beyond its songs. We’re in an era where we’re still sorting out what value music has to us. Back in the day, it was easy because it was worth the plastic it was burned to. But now—physical releases are falling out of fashion, streaming services place all the music in the world in your hands for the price of a CD a month, and albums as a whole are no longer how a lot of us consume music in the first place. For me, and maybe many others—but I’m honestly shooting from my own hip—music has become more ephemeral, perhaps even weightless in the modern world. But bands like the Trusty Snakes, whether they know it or not, are proving that music need not be cheap and weightless, that now that music is available to everyone, it can still be a people’s medium. It can be as earthy, honest, and yeah, even country, as we want it to be—because there’s no longer a giant machine threshing our wheat, and in its absence, we’re now picking our own grain—and maybe that’s how it needs to be for awhile. A genre once marked by documenting the lives and woes of the blue-collar and working-class became a vehicle, through the power of that Great Thresher, to reinforce right-wing politics and form an identity around them. Not as conspiracy, but as salesmanship—a means to define an audience and have an audience define themselves. And in its sputtering death throes, where the bonds of music, money, and identity have become decidedly shakier, the Trusty Snakes are here to bring us back to the land. New American Frontier is as apt a title as any, and for once in a long while, we have music for music’s sake. 

 



EP Review: Joy Opposites – “Bad Phase”

Joy Opposites are a supremely interesting band, formed after the legendary post-hardcore act FACT disbanded with the only non-Japanese member of the band, Adam Graham, at the helm. Joy Opposites are now down to a two piece, with Imran Saddiqi formerly of The Amity Affliction rounding out the duo. After the incredible Find Hell from two years ago, new music from the band was certainly an exciting prospect, and now Bad Phase is here.

The EP name came from a discussion the two were having regarding the band, with Imran describing them going through a “Bad Phase.” Despite this, the band kick back into high gear as soon as the EP starts with “Holy Smoke.” The track beeps in with a sense of urgency, a bouncing and rolling electronic section brings us into Adam’s aggressive and frantic delivery. “I don’t think so, I don’t think so,” catches in the mind as the track beats down in-between calmer, brooding segments. There’s even a bit of guitar work towards the end reminiscent of a more post-hardcore sound, mixing quite well with their style.

The synthesizers and programmed drums the band experimented with on Find Hell make their way back in this EP, but they go deeper and explore more with what they can do. The second track, “Bad Phase,” is this dark, sonically ebbing and flowing piece that finds some fantastic earworm moments. The quiet, almost threatening and foreboding whispered lyrics, coming as almost a distant chant, elevate this track to an incredible place. Ending out the original tracks is “Whatevvver.” As the spelling of the track may imply, it has this drawn out style with the vocals that spikes with the guitars. This track feels like something that could have been on Swim, their debut album, though skewed in their new direction more. It’s a good track to space out to, bobbing your head along to the tide of urgency that runs in and out.

Ending the EP are four covers, four tracks that the band considers near their hearts. Covers of “Lovely” by Billie Eilish, “Weeds” by Life in Agony, “Down In A Hole” by Alice in Chains, and “Smoke Signals” by Phoebe Bridgers close out Bad Phase. It’s pretty great to hear Joy Opposites covering artists that have influenced them, and they’re quite competent and interesting takes on them, though they are a bit like a fun filler, with the 3 original tracks at the start coming as the most impressive side of this EP.

Concerning the topic of the tracks, Adam has decided to explore societal issues and the state of the world rather than the deeply personal and mental focus of their previous albums. On this shift Adam had to say: “Lyrically, these songs deal with societal issues more than personal ones. Both of us have been strongly affected by how the world is changing and how things are spiraling out of control… Honestly, it was quite a challenge for me to write about a certain subject rather than about a feeling since my lyrics are generally quite stream-of-consciousness, so this was something new.

All in all, Bad Phase feels like a stepping stone in a way, but definitely not in a bad way. With the band coming down to two members, and considering their broad appreciation for music and flexible abilities, they’ve felt out a great fluctuation of their Find Hell brilliance to continue experimenting and bringing a dark atmosphere to well built and catchy alternative rock tunes. This release may even be the most post-hardcore leaning of the band’s, mixing the electronica and pounding rock with rises to an almost hardcore peak. Joy Opposites are a band to watch, ever impressing with their sound and style, I’m eagerly awaiting their next full length project in the vein of this EP.

Bad Phase was released on July 10th, via Hostess Entertainment. You can listen to Bad Phase here.



Album Review: Prince Daddy and the Hyena – “Cosmic Thrill Seekers”

Here’s the short version: Cosmic Thrill Seekers is a great fucking album. There I said it. If that’s all you need to know, you can load up Spotify and move on. There lies good music. 

Now, here’s the long story: Prince Daddy & the Hyena are a raucous emo act from Albany, New York. But, you could just as easily call them ambitious pop punk, if you were so inclined. Their sound is one of massive hooks, snarling and gravel-affected vocals, trilling guitar lines, and Jeff Rosenstock bells and whistles (mostly literally). Cosmic Thrill Seekers is a concept album about the long-felt fallout of a bad trip, each song melding into the next in perfect cohesion. From start to finish, the listener is treated to a personal, aspirational, and bombastic experience that might just be the culmination of not only a sound, but of a scene. 

“I Lost My Life” begins the album with strummed chords and a gentle melody before introducing lead singer’s Kory Gregory growl of a vocal. Being unfamiliar with Prince Daddy & the Hyena’s work prior, I wasn’t expecting such a labored tone—honestly sounding more like the rough singing voice of Scott “Stza” Sturgeon than the clear and conversational tone of bands like Mom Jeans and Modern Baseball. It grows on you though, and it’s inclusion ties it into the greater tradition of punk music, rather than gating it off in the much more respectable emo community. And I think that’s an important element of Prince Daddy’s sound here. Cosmic Thrill Seekers is an amalgam of musical influences (I hear stirrings of American Idiot, Welcome to the Black Parade, and The Monitor being some of them), but its delivery is youthful and expressive. In the same way older punks balk at the theatrics of the genre, Prince Daddy wallows in them. 

The angular solos and big shout-alongs of “I Lost My Life” lead to “Lauren (Track 2),” which could potentially be my song of the summer. It’s opening lyric, “Lauren! So glad you heard me calling!” is the sort of line that can unite a crowd. The riff that precedes it, noodling guitars punctuated with power chords, opens the song with explosive energy. It feels like hot summer nights staring into a wide-open future. Prince Daddy & the Hyena excel at writing earworms molded by their own idiosyncratic musical vision; throughout Cosmic Thrill Seekers hooky pop songs are transformed into frenetic punk rock, but they do it by knowing which buttons to press. Sometimes the guitar is this great rumbling force, sometimes it’s not playing nearly as much as you think it is; the band goes from tremolo leads to arpeggio picked bridges complete with falsetto vocals. If there’s one thing Prince Daddy understands, it’s that a song never need be boring. And this sense of constant change, of dynamic arrangement, makes for a much more intense and engaging listen than if they were played straight, so to speak. 

One of my favorite songs, “Slip”, begins with an alt-rock chord riff with a couple drum hits as emphasis. From there, it explodes into a verse so emotionally intense that the melody comes out in spite of the Kory Gregory’s near-screams. It’s chorus is one of the highlights of the album for me, and it features a handful of lyrics that feel intimate and personal (“He says all my friends are so hard to read…”), which become the seeds for rousing anthemics. This is a common thread throughout Cosmic Thrill Seekers, and perhaps it’s greatest triumph: the sublimation of personal experience into something loud, vital, and exciting. 

Without a doubt, this is an album that’ll come up again and again for the rest of the year. It’ll be talked about in top ten lists, and for a lot of us, it’ll be one of those albums that follows you around for the rest of your life. And really, it’s easy to see why. Cosmic Thrill Seekers has the songs to make it possible. The instrumentation is exciting, but nothing anyone who’s listened to PUP or Jeff Rosenstock hasn’t heard in some way or another. The concept is interesting, but Direct Hit! did a drug related concept album just the other year. But, the songs—the songs here form a steady foundation for everything else to be built on, and subsequently flourish. And now that these songs are out in the world, I, for one, am better for it. It’s as simple as that. 

 



Album Review: Ramona – “Deals, Deals, Deals!”

Deals, Deals, Deals is probably my favorite surprise of the year. I’d seen Ramona before, I’d even liked them before, but their Red Scare debut is something special. They have the songs, they have the hooks, and they have the words to make it more than just a party. I’ve been struggling a lot lately with what I actually I want from punk music. So much of it is trying to be something else—either a clone of a clone or a knowing throwback to when clones ruled the indies. Ramona is different. Ramona feels like a natural intersection of a group of close creatives; Deals, Deals, Deals is defined by songwriting before genre, and where the songs go, the sound rightly follows.

Which isn’t to say that Ramona is making music outside the confines of genre. This is melodic punk, or maybe indie punk. It’s bouncy and catchy and plaintive when it needs to be. The power chords are thick and chuggy and they form the blocky backing track to the band’s dueling vocalists. But, the fact that Ramona is a three-piece makes their music feel all the more intimate, listening to Deals, Deals, Deals, I couldn’t forget that these songs, as personal as they are, were forged from the fires of three close people. It goes a long way to capturing a certain tone, of raw conversations and comfortable clashes. 

The album opens with “Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Hearts,” which features some slice-of-life relationship storytelling delivered with emotional gusto and supported by some meaty hooks. Where a lot of pop punkish bands lose their way is with their arrangements, but Ramona dodges this common misstep with thoughtful changes in their playing, specifically their drumming. I don’t often notice drumming in a song, because I’m a rhythmless philistine, but they use it here to great effect to control the song’s dynamic. “Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Hearts” becomes a full-throated, danceable singalong with a positively insistent energy. 

On “Not Your Token,” we get to hear a really cool lyrical perspective as well as some Lawrence Arms-style duet singing between the two vocalists (who I wish I could name, but all the information I’ve found is the first names of the three members, and not what they do). The throat shredding call of, “I’m not your token, I’m a fucking person,” is the kind of punk rock line I live for. It boils down the sentiment to a single statement, direct and in your face. More structurally, the song is a grail of hooks, where the entire run time feels like a big singalong chorus. “We’ll make a difference, we’ll make it better, with or without you,” might just be punk’s logline for years to come. 

“Is This Emo?” is one of the other highlights of the album for me. It’s an incredibly frank, personal song about self-perception and it reminded me of that uncomfortable frisson I first felt from bands like AJJ and Against Me! It was that sort of confrontation via talk therapy that initially pulled me deeper into the genre, and it’s bands like Ramona, with their fearless navel-gazing, that keeps me there. Deals, Deals, Deals! is filled with these trauma-narrative-cum-pop-songs, and it makes it for an involving, resonant listen. 

The album ultimately has a message of hope, as “Mambo 69” concludes: “you can build your own family, be the person that you wanna be.” Deals, Deals, Deals! uses punk rock as a vehicle for self-improvement, as a means to stare the bullshit in the eye and see it for what it is. It’s about acknowledging the worst and then striving for the best. Ramona accomplishes their goals with the finesse of scene veterans, and they do it with some of the best music I’ve heard all year. 



Album Review: Bracket – “Too Old To Die Young”

Too Old To Die Young is a sentiment that rings true to plenty of us aging punks, living for high Beats Per Minute and living with high blood pressure. It also encapsulates the timeless feel to this record.

Bracket are self proclaimed musical ‘misfits’ and were somewhat coerced into making this album by Fat Mike. They live in the cracks between punk and pop punk – as well as flirting with other genres –  but here they have produced an album that will make perfect sense to punks of all varieties and ages. If your dad keeps harping on about 80s punk, then firstly I’m sorry for your troubles, but here is an album for both of you!

This is not an attempt to reinvent any wheels. They’ve been there, done that. This is simple and pure punk rock songwriting, delivered with melodic aplomb. It’s a blend of old and new that bridges the generational gap between The Ramones and Masked Intruder.

“Cloud Ate” takes some bouncy baby steps to start the album, with an improvised guitar riff, before immediately finding it’s stride and setting the pace for what’s to come. There is a beauty in the simplicity of the songs; a sense of pure joy that emanates through each track. With some frankly delightful Oohs N Aahs in the background.

That’s right, I said delightful. Because this album is delightful and I don’t think Bracket give a shit if it’s punk rock or not. The vocal duties are traded, shared and intentionally layered in a way that sounds like The Beach Boys if they actually got into the whole Charles Manson cult thing.

Aptly enough “A Perfect Misfit” is one of the standout songs here, combining all the best elements of the album into a punky brew. There are self-deprecating lyrics across most of the 26 minutes of the LP, but one benefit of growing older is that you run out of fucks to give. Sure, they may not have made it big. Sure, they might on average be the wrong side of 40. But they are a band who are comfortable in their sound, even if they might not be as comfortable in their skin.  

This is a great little power pop album, just in time for summer. Fat Mike has made some questionable choices in his life, but convincing Bracket to go ahead with this album is not one of them.

4.5/5 Stars

 



Album Review: Russian Girlfriends – “In the Parlance of our Times”

A couple of years back, I managed to see Russian Girlfriends open for Red City Radio at a pretty unimpressive venue in Portland, OR that has since been closed. I had never heard of the band before the show, and I didn’t particularly like going to said venue, but alas, there I was. The New Mexican punk rock ‘n rollers impressed me well enough with their swaggering, high energy performance and I thought to myself that there must be something wrong here. Russian Girlfriends was a good band—they were extremely competent, they worked the crowd like industry pros, and they were opening for one of the biggest acts in punk rock at the time. The catch? I hadn’t heard a fucking word about them before that tour. They’d never been recommended, they’d never popped up in any of my many internet conversations with other disaffected scenesters. Russian Girlfriends were effectively off the grid for me, and then there they were: born as a full-grown band with full-grown chops, seemingly out of nowhere.

And now, they’re on A-F Records, perhaps one of the most exciting labels in punk today (also seemingly out of nowhere) and they have an album out. In the Parlance of our Times is a raging, spitting, staggering punk rock album that is as muscular as it is musical. It’s a testament to triplet runs, pick scrapes, and honey and oil high notes. Russian Girlfriends sound like an arena punk rock band—somewhere between ZZ Top, the Bronx, and the chugging melodicism of 90s Epifat. In the Parlance of our Times is all of those things, and maybe even too much of those things—but it’s here, it exists, and whether I like everything it tries to be, it executes it with a level of professionalism and competency that gives even its blandest decisions a sense of conviction.

“Coke” is a hardcore sprint that features some tongue-in-cheek sass (“you’re the reason punk rock is dead!”), a minute long rager that sets the stage not necessarily for Russian Girlfriends’ sound as it does their energy. “Angry Bong Rips” is a more traditional song, featuring a catchy vocal melody and a lot of guitar-centric antics. As far as riffs go, these guys got a lot of them, running power chords up and down the fretboard with leads a-plenty. The vibe is 80s and honestly not too much of a stone’s throw from Skynyrd, but where the influence might not be “cool,” at least it’s different. We can only take so much Replacements, Clash, and Springsteen worship in the punk scene—the palette change is refreshing, if not always to my taste.

The arrangements throughout the album are head-turning and part of the reason Russian Girlfriends feel so fully-formed to me (or pre-packaged, depending on my mood). “White Guilt White Heat” has heavy riffs complete with piercing harmonics as well as a strummed slow-down. Echoes of Interscope-era Rise Against come to mind, which is no bad thing, mind you, but in appreciating the album as a work of art, I can’t help but wonder how they ended up here. There is no evil work at play, I know; their polish is an admirable trait. But—and there’s always a but—it is in the cracks through which we see the artist, and I can’t help but feel like In the Parlance of our Times doesn’t have much in the way of cracks—that it is too tight, too competent, and in effect: void of personality. In less words: it’s safe.

But there’s something to be said for safe. Safe isn’t always exciting, but it can be fun in a comfortable sort of way. Like a well-worn boot or a favorite guitar. Russian Girlfriends aren’t reinventing anything here (Axl Rose or Billy Gibbons, take your pick), but they are banging out expertly conceived tunes with the precise execution of real life musicians. It’s something to behold. It might not change the world, but who knows, maybe it’ll improve your night.

 



Album Review: Eat Dirt – “Death is Death”

On the band’s Facebook page, their entire bio is:
“PUNK ROCK FROM THE SOUTH EAST OF ENGLAND.
HUMAN.
ANGRY AT STUFF.”

As such, London’s Eat Dirt’s first full-length album is an awesome example of what a hardcore album should be.  Having been a fan of their EPs, I was anticipating this album and it did not let me down in the slightest. At times melodic, but always hard and driving, this is the perfect music for those days when you need something to get you going – or just want to listen to some real, modern hardcore.

Death is Death opens with the one-minute “Make Peace” – a raging track that leaves you wanting more – and the album doesn’t let up from there.  Commenting on the song, front man Ben Mills says: Our song ‘Make Peace’ is about not allowing yourself to give up on growing and evolving as a person. It’s a rallying call to make a difference in your life and not stagnate, and become a bigot. Too many times people get stuck in their ways and won’t see the world from the other side of the coin. This song is about becoming the best version of yourself and not dying emotionally and intellectually.” I couldn’t have said it better.

The band largely writes songs about the current socio-political environment in the UK, but the themes are pretty universal and apply to what a lot of countries – including the United States – are going through right now. It’s a highly relatable album when there is so much going on in the world to be legitimately angry about.

The title track has a catchy, scream-along chorus that immediately gets into your head, and doesn’t let go. “The Beast” is a slower song that really works –a much more melodic hardcore sound. It’s awesome. “Come and See” has a similar feel – and both songs break up the album’s otherwise relentlessness. It even has a solo, but it absolutely works in the context of the song.

“Night Terrors” is probably my favorite song on Death is Death. With a melodic chorus to break up the screaming lead vocals, it’s just an all-around badass song about being afraid for your safety and refusing to let anyone tell you it’s just okay. Again, highly relatable.

Not a single song on the album goes over two and a half minutes – Eat Dirt are masters of the perfect bite of music to satisfy and simultaneously leave you ready for the next song. This is because every single song on the album is also a great song. Will this go down as one of my favorites of 2019? For sure. Will it be on heavy rotation in my house? It’s safe to say it will be.

Eat Dirt’s Death is Death is out June 3rd on Bearded Punk Records.

4/5 stars



Album Review: Frank Iero and The Future Violents – “Barriers”

Ever since the end of My Chemical Romance, Frank Iero has not allowed himself, or his music, to be pigeonholed. This is evident with his latest project, Frank Iero and the Future Violents, which sounds nothing like previous offerings from the guitarist/singer, yet is equally good as the others have been. Barriers opens with a slower song, reminiscent of a 1950s ballad, which makes the punk that follows all the more interesting. (Not to say that opening track “A New Day’s Coming”  isn’t good – it is.)

The Future Violents lineup is  Iero, Evan Nestor (an alumni of all the Frank Iero solo projects), former Murder By Death bassist Matt Armstrong, multi-instrumentalist Kayleigh Goldsworthy from Dave Hause And The Mermaid and Thursday’s Tucker Rule on drums.

“Young and Doomed” feels like a slightly experimental punk anthem for anyone feeling the frustrations of life in the current times. The song crashes into “Fever Dream,” which almost has a Nirvana feel to it – something totally unexpected that works really well in the context of the album.  I think these two songs are my favorites on an album that I really like for its subdued charms and bursts of energy that keep the listener on their toes. “Moto-Pop” also stands out, as it is a song that would be equally at home on a late 70s punk album. The verses of “No Love” even sounds vaguely like The Cure – which is a surprising twist.

Barriers is, if nothing else, a diverse pastiche of different sounds and styles. It is a roller coaster of an album that takes listeners on an adventure through Frank’s brain and different aspects of music he appreciates and has been influenced by.

Frank Iero’s vocals are at times, like butter – this is especially apparent on “The Unfortunate,” and “Medicine Square Garden” – both at home in the middle of the album. But he hasn’t forgotten his roots from earlier bands and his ability to scream in the best possible ways.

The melodic and catchy chorus of “Police Police”, with almost spoken-word lyrics is another favorite and a song that is hard to characterize. “Hard to characterize” is probably the best way to describe this album, although there’s nothing wrong with that. It makes it more of an adventure, and is a great album when taken as individual songs as well as for listening to straight through.

The album closes with a jazzy ballad, almost a sexy siren song “Six Feet Under” and the sweeping and swooping “24k Lush”. Taken separately, the two songs couldn’t be less alike, but they work. That’s kind of the theme of the whole album – it just works, even if there is no real reason for it to do so. We’re dealing with ambitious professionals here. They knew exactly what they were doing when they put this album together.

Barriers is overall more tame than previous offerings from Frank Iero, especially when compared to his garage rock turn with Frank Iero and the Patience and the rawness of frnkiero and the cellabration. It doesn’t make this less of an album, not by any means, and it sounds nothing like what he did when he was in My Chemical Romance. At the same time, it is probably his solo album that will appeal most to fans of MCR.

4/4 stars