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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/5 stars



Album Review: The Barstool Preachers “Grazie Governo”

Grazie Governo is the sophomore full length from Brighton, UK’s The Barstool Preachers, who are known for their ska influenced street punk with a strong dedication to social justice.

This a a fantastic street punk album with a heavy UK ska influence. It features angry protest songs like the title track “Grazie Governo”, the stand out “DLTDHYOTWO” and reggae punk toe tapper “Cry Wolf.” Then there is the rock and roll ode to love in “8.6 days (All the broken hearts)” which explores people overcoming their own faults and allowing themselves to be loved. The heart wrenching line of “I love you, I don’t get it because I don’t know what you ever saw in me darling” just sums up the whole experience. This type of disjointed love is further explored in “Choose my Friends” which features Amiee Interrupter, which is very fitting because sonically it would easily fit on any one of the Interrupters albums or perhaps a Rancid B-side.

In the song “Drink” we get an upbeat pop-punk sound that belies the darkness of using alcohol to numb the failings in our lives. While “Drive” gives us a Sublime-esque look into the inner monologue of depression. It’s like these two songs where deliberately written as a cause and effect. The happiness of having a few drinks mixed with the dive into drunken self examination.

There is an underlying unrest which borders on depression and anger in most of the songs on this album. However it does not give up all hope as the very last track “High Horse” is an upbeat pop-ska chill, with the beautiful sounds of a happy piano filling the the background. It’s a reminder that paradise is not lost, at least not yet.

This album delivers so much in such a short period. There is enough anger and disillusionment to satisfy fans of old school punk, there’s enough upstrokes and piano/organ accompaniment to keep the ska fans happy, and it is catchy enough to keep everyone coming back for more.

4/5 Stars



Album Review: Tragedy – “Fury”

I was one of the lucky few, I got to see Tragedy on their home turf. For some, this will mean nothing. There’s so many nooks and crannies in the punk scene that we can’t possibly know it all. But for others—die-hards of crust and hardcore—the chance to see Tragedy is everything.

This is a band, that when they were first introduced to me were jokingly referred to as “the punkest band.” They exist on a different level from other similar groups, they are the progenitors of their melodic, D-beat infused style—with each member branching off into dozens of equally worthy bands. But besides the music (which is the reason we are here—but please, stay with me), the cult of Tragedy is also built around the group’s admirable, nearly monastic silence, ironic as it is for hardcore. Tragedy is the Fugazi of heavy punk; they self-release their albums, they rarely engage in interviews, and they don’t promote their music. Tragedy is mysterious, therefore: Tragedy is cool.

So, a chance to see this iconic band for a second time was something special. But you can imagine the beats my heart skipped when I saw a new album on their merch table. Stark black and white, vaguely apocalyptic looking and titled Fury—I had cash on the table in seconds.

Fury is their latest EP, and as any fan would expect, it wasn’t expected and it doesn’t disappoint. It contains six tracks and lasts about seventeen minutes, and to my ears is a hunkering down on the band’s more hardcore roots, while stepping away from the doomier aspects of Darker Days Ahead. The title is an apt one. While there are some prototypical Tragedy melodies (like the brooding bass on opener “Leviathan”), this is pure, unbridled rage. When the dirge like melody recedes and the thrashing begins, the first words of the album bark like a wild animal: “Keel, keel over!” “Leviathan” is classic Tragedy—as bleak and ruthless as ever. 

“Enter the Void” opens with a great riff, and has some of the best fretwork on the album. Trilling guitars create tension; melodic solos make for heaviness that goes beyond mere down-tuning. Part of Tragedy’s appeal isn’t just sonic heaviness, it’s the fundamentals of their minor key dynamics working in tandem with their lyrical nihilism. It’s in the title-track where I wondered if Fury (and specifically, “Fury”) was written in response to the last presidential election. The album’s rage is palpable, but wisely, it doesn’t age itself with specificity. Still, the words of “Fury” carry the howl of an outsider watching a wreck they can’t prevent: “A look out the window, yields only darkness. A sick world going insane.”

“A Life Entombed” is a rousing response to the same predicament. It’s a call-to-action—a violent, furious rager that feels like a beatdown. It promises an uprising, “while they’re obese and delighted”—a message of grotesque hope for the outsiders looking in. The EP ends with a simple piano outro that carries the weight of a question mark. With these six songs of pure fury, it begs the question: will we do anything with the rage we’ve accumulated?

With or without Fury, Tragedy would have a perfect catalog. But more than ever, we need voices like theirs—to process the world around us, to engage our nightmares in a fair fight. Tragedy does this and more, without marketing, promotion, or theatricality. They are a punk band, and they trade in our scene’s greatest tenet: confrontation. And just like the Ramones—they let their art speak for them. In Portland, sweaty from the pit; my hat caked in beer-mud—Tragedy finished their set to applause and laughter. It was a rare sight. A chant started from the crowd, “one more song,” over and over. And I had to smile, because when the band leaves, the band leaves. Tragedy—whether on vinyl, or in person—does what they need to do, then vanishes. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

5/5



Album Review: MXPX – “MXPX”

Defining a full-length studio album as one comprised of mostly, if not entirely, new and original material, here are some bands who have NOT yet released ten proper full-length studio albums: Descendents, Lagwagon, blink-182, The Offspring, Less Than Jake, Strung Out, Rancid. (Bands that have? NOFX, Bad Religion, Pennywise, Green Day, Screeching Weasel, The Ramones…) Longevity does not necessarily go hand-in-hand with greatness, but, still, you gotta be doing something right to make it to ten full-lengths. And now MxPx has joined the club.



Album Review: The Drowns – “View From the Bottom”

In this heated, post-election climate, I see street punk making a comeback. It’s political, aggressive, and catchy—but it’s also by and of the people. It just goes to show, if you wanna be heard, try being loud. Still, it’s not a style I hear a lot of, and I still tend to associate it with the old-guard studs-and-spikes crowd. So, color me surprised when I heard that members of the Shell Corporation and Success were forming the Drowns and playing gravelly, catchy street punk. It made sense, but it was also a total sucker punch. But, there I was, intrigued.

I know Rev from Success. He’s a killer songwriter, with a great voice, and some intense guitar chops. These Red Scare-ready instincts bring us massive choruses and heartfelt messages—but with the Drowns, I was ready to see this mode of operation translated into something rougher, more direct. It’s the meeting of two worlds, isn’t it? The punk rock of new (practically a supergroup!) playing a defiantly old-school style. View From the Bottom, from the concept alone, was immediately interesting.

The album opens with “Eternal Debate,” a call-to-action as well as in-your-face criticism. It captures the Drowns approach to street punk perfectly. Loud, direct; classically punk and catchy as all Hell. The Drowns bring to mind the blue-collar anthemics of Cock Sparrer, dragged spitting into 2018. It’s also on “Eternal Debate” where we get a taste of the Drowns’ lyrical direction. Lines like, “maybe we could solve the problems of today, people with no food and no place to stay, instead we’re locked in eternal debate,” point to a perspective implied by the album’s title: a view from the bottom. The Drowns are making a record for the underclass, the folks who get stomped on by those with a view from the top. I don’t know how many records I’ve reviewed this year that I’ve described as having a blue-collar perspective, but as pressure from the top starts to squeeze the people at the bottom, it’s nice to hear no one’s going quietly.

Songs like “Where’s Bobby,” are less political, but still paint a picture of a bleak urban landscape. Its chorus is a nostalgic joy, a callback to the days of early punk where the refrain was a simple phrase, repeated. In this case, “Bobby’s back on heroin!” Still, it’s appropriately dark, and it’d be unfair to paint it as View From the Bottom’s fun barn-burner. The chorus is direct and confrontational, mincing no words—and because of that, it sounds off like a gunshot.

But if you do want a good old fashioned barn-burner, the title track fulfills the need to scream along and throw up some fists. “View From the Bottom” is a fast-paced number with some catchy guitar licks and coughing vocals. It’s a posi fuck-you, with lyrics like “go ahead and see if I care, I got some shade here,” as well as “this view is looking pretty good from the bottom!” It’s loud, adhesive, and proud—and it makes no apologies. The final track, “Darkness,” ends the album with a message of hope, delivered in a distinctive, yet beautiful croon. What else do we need to know in dark times except that we’re not alone? “Darkness” unites rebels, outcasts, and artists—and gives them promise for a better tomorrow.

View From the Bottom is refreshingly punk. In a time where the genre can mean any of a dozen things, the Drowns set themselves up as true north. It’s a back to basics punk record where politics, filtered by the perspective of blue-collar songwriters, takes center stage. This is ten tracks of angst, anger, and community that doesn’t drag for a second. The Drowns bring their message, set their fire, and jump the fence before the sirens get close.

4/5



Album Review: Former Member – “Old Youth”

There was a time where I would reject everything that I considered a side project. In my young, dumb, and narrow mind, there could only be one true outlet for an artist’s work, and whatever got passed around to the other projects were leftovers. None More Black, ironically was one of my favorite bands, and as strict minds do, I ignored my own hypocrisy by never getting into Kid Dynamite. I know longer hold those weird standards with music, thankfully—I know people can grow and change and what they want when they’re twenty isn’t going to be what they want when they’re thirty and so on and so forth. So, when I heard None More Black singer Jason Shevchuk had a new band and a new album, I didn’t balk—I just thought to myself: I wonder where Jason’s at these days.

Former Member has that same distinctive sense of melody, those same gravel-coated vocal cords. It’s stripped down and methodical; a melodic punk two-piece. Shevchuk handles guitar and vocals while producer-extraordinaire Will Yip plays drums. This is a true supergroup of punk rock talents, an intimate marriage of two people who love making music. But funny enough, the fact that this is a closed circle, with only two members, makes the band all the more respectable. This doesn’t sound like two scene vets cashing in on their respective credibility. Old Youth has enough great songs and personality to earn its renown on its own.

“Cold Open” has one of the best melodies I’ve heard in a long time, enough that it’s almost always bouncing off the insides of my skull. It’s mid-tempo, gruff, and beautiful; the sounds of punks growing up and growing into what they’ve learned along the way. In this case—songwriting. Shevchuk shows us he’s still got it, and he may not have even reached his peak yet. And there’s not just strong melodies, but there’s a lot of them. The song pushes into new territory effortlessly, with melody building on top of melody, with support and counterpoint from Shevchuk’s own guitar.

Old Youth actually has a diversity of sounds on it. “Double Scoop of Trouble (Looking for a Cone)” is a sort of bluesy hard rock song that reminds me of something straight out of the ZZ Top catalog. As the song progresses though, it takes on a more punk identity, especially with its chorus. “Root Notes” is another highlight, instantly arresting with its big catchy hook—bridging the gap between gospel and melodic punk. “What fools we are, doesn’t matter how cool we are,” is sure to be one of the most singable lines of the year.

“Goat of Dover” ends the album, at times both bouncy and melancholy. It’s a great way to sum up what we’ve seen in the past from None More Black, Kid Dynamite, and LaGrecia and now with Former Member, we see the sensibility carried into the present and hopefully the future. Old Youth is a collection of songs that prove that punk doesn’t have to burn out or fade away.

4/5



Album Review: Street Dogs “Stand for Something or Die for Nothing”

Street Dogs are back with their sixth studio album, which is also their first album in eight years, Stand for Something or Die for Nothing. For the uninitiated, Street Dogs have a working class street punk and roll sound that has never been tighter than what is on display on this album.

The title track “Stand for Something or Die for Nothing” opens up this album. A classic reminder of everything Street Dogs bring to the table, catchy super tight guitars, socio-political lyrical warnings, and gang-vocals that suck the listener right into the narrative. The topics covered are all in the same vein, generated largely by anger with the current political environment. There’s the blue collar “Working Class Heroes”, the immigration story of “The Round Up”, the warning to future generations in “Other Ones”, and the redemption of “The Comeback Zone”. With one highlight being “Angels Calling” featuring Boston rapper Slaine, who’s appearance gives this rowdy song a boost of energy and a sense of urgency. It’s a perfect way to blend genres in a way that will have you hitting repeat.

This album really shines with a couple of emotional tracks, the first being “These Ain’t the Old Days”. An ode to friends who were unable to overcome their struggles. The emotion put forth by Lenny Lashley on this track is extremely touching. The other song is “Lest We Forget”, the story of a Boston kid who moved to New York to be a firefighter and met a tragic end on September 11, 2001. This song has an energy that betrays its melancholic nature. On a first listen it’s a punk rock banger where it is easy to imagine the crowd singing along to every word. However the more you pay attention the more you will realize that this is a heart-breaker, a super catchy sing-along heart-breaker.

Most of Stand for Something or Die for Nothing is blazing punk rock and roll, however Street Dogs show off their chops on a couple of outliers. “Mary on Believer Street” sounds like a 70’s rock song complete with the high register vocals, and guitar work that sounds lifted from Keith Richards. Ironically enough, this album ends with a cover of “Torn and Frayed” off The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. It’s a faithful cover with Street Dogs soul.

“The dumbing down of America is a reason to write songs in 2018” says lead singer Mike McColgan when discussing this album, “The theme is wake the fuck up and the working class needs to unite across all colors, creeds, nationalities, genders and realize that we are being pitted against each other by snake oil salesmen and autocrats”. Perfectly described and delivered as promised.

4/5 Stars



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