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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



Album Review: Petrol Girls – “Cut and Stitch”

I have listened to Petrol Girls’ latest offering, Cut and Stitch on headphones and on my stereo, and let me say, this is an album that demands to be played, and played loudly. From the spoken word intro to the last note on the album, this is a true feminist manifesto that is perfect for the times and should not – cannot – be ignored.

Easily one of the most popular female-fronted bands around, Petrol Girls are at the forefront of the new feminist punk movement that feels like riot grrrl all over again. And considering what is going on the world over with women’s rights and equality, it makes sense that there would be another rise in feminist punk music. Our music has always been a voice for rebellion and warning, and this album speaks those truths fearlessly.

Petrol Girls are not afraid to experiment with different sounds and styles on this album, as evidenced by the switching between spoken word and the expected screaming-singing style. The short, acoustic duet, “Interlude” is perfectly named and a much-needed breather in the middle of the album.  Cut & Stitch is a daring album; one written by a band that had a unique vision for what they wanted to say. It feels like they didn’t care if it was commercially viable, nor what others thought. This is what they need to get out and share with the world.  This is evident in all the new directions this album takes us in – including a lot of songs that are more melodic than we have come to expect from Petrol Girls.

The sing-song “Monstrous” is probably my favorite song on the album, though it is hard to choose. “No Love For a Nation” stands out with its male lead vocals that really work – and it is a powerful, anti-nationalist song.  “Talk in Tongues”, with its male/female vocals reminds me of Huggy Bear – and really works. On this album, I find the band is often at their best when utilizing their female/male dual vocals.

All in all, Cut & Stitch is a great album. It is a different album that will not meet your expectations, nor will it disappoint. It will, many times, eclipse the band’s prior works.  More than anything, though, it is an important album that speaks to the times we live in, with unabashed honesty and exposes many brutal truths about what is going on around the world. This will make it one of those records for the ages, as much as the uniqueness of the music contained within Cut & Stitch.

4.5/5 stars



Album Review: Dangers Of Love – “Dangers Of Love”

Now and again a release appears from nowhere and clears out all the cobwebs. Dangers Of Love’s debut, self-titled EP is one of them. Channeling The Replacements, The Clash, Sharks and even Oasis across the six tracks, the band – led by Great Cynics’ Giles Bidder in brilliant songwriting form – have delivered an absolute belter with this release.

Opener “Holsten Pills Blues” kicks things off in with a brilliant riff then two minutes of snotty, middle fingers up, melodic punk tracks. The dynamic shifts and harmonies throughout “Why Would You Run” keep the energy up before the release (and band’s) eponymous number deliver the big highlight. “Dangers Of Love” has everything that’s great about indie, punk and (yes) britpop in three minutes of magic, and is one of the best songs to come out of the UK scene in a long time.

The back half of the six tracker keeps up the fine work, with a Get Cape, Wear Cape-esque vocal delivery on “Hyperactive Imagination” telling the listener they can “tell them to fuck off” in a big singalong moment for a band on release one. Even with the gloom in the subject matter of “Aries”, Dangers Of Love keep it energetic, and by the time “She’s Coming Over” closes the EP down a two minute long blast of throwback (almost street punk) refrains, the release is screaming out for another play.

Dangers Of Love have done something really brilliant with this release. It’s snotty, angry, raw at the same time as being positive, uplifting and fun, and hopefully it gets the attention it deserves and leads them onto an album. An absolutely essential release.

4.5/5 Stars



Album Review: Doaks “Scaredy Ghost”

Cleveland’s DOAKS debut album Scaredy Ghost was released towards the end of 2018 with a unique sound that was self described as “a punk rock B-52’s”. This comparison is not without merit, as they have a driving rhythm section, soaring female vocals combined with a grounding male vocal presence and a subtle synth-pop influence. Where they differ is that DOAKS has a darker more serious feel and drops the quirky nature of the B-52’s in favor of a heavier pop punk vibe.

“Total Nightmare” is the album opener and greets us with an ominous syncopated guitar with quiet vocals combo. This quickly expands into a bass and drum heavy pop punk jam with Chelsea’s soaring vocals laid on top. It is one of the catchiest songs on the album and just like a real nightmare it will haunt you when your done listening.

“I Just Want to Drink” follows with a bouncy punk rock blast about the annoying bar culture that interferes with the ability to simply go out and have a drink. From here on out the album steers away from the punk side, not with a reckless abandon but there is a change in the influences and styles as we progress.

The first distinctly different song is “Not a Whore” which opens with a synthetic drum sound and droning lyric delivery. It has a slower, slightly more minimalistic Shiny Toy Guns feel where the music is on the sludgey side and the vocals bounce back and forth between rumbling and soaring. The original comparison to the B-52’s is at its highest with “You Don’t Love Me Anymore” a synth driven jam where Jeremy’s vocals are at the front and Chelsea’s floats ambiently above it. It is heavier and darker but kicks off with a bright keyboard lick.

DOAKS showcases their ability to write some indie rock gems with songs like “I Gotta Go”, “I Must Be a Fool” and “Because I Said So” all of which feature some catchy hooks and are super danceable. However the pinnacle of their indie stylings is the album closer “Waiting All My Lifetime” which has distorted guitars playing with a heavy bass line and the vocals fade in and out creating a sound that is reminiscent of early 90’s Garbage.

Scaredy Ghost is an intriguing listen as they pull influences from a wide variety of styles. This keeps the album from getting stale with repeat listens as there is always something that will catch your ear and either make you dance or grab a beer and chill. DOAKS have promised us new music in 2019 and I am definitely looking forward to more.

4.5/5 Stars



Album Review: Abolitionist – “Ugly Feeling”

It’s no secret that Portland’s Abolitionist has decided to call it quits, bringing to an end a lifetime that’s spanned eight years and (if their bandcamp is to be believed) eight releases. This was a band, that for me, seemed omnipresent in Portland’s punk rock scene. A dark sounding amalgam of hardcore and everything else, directed more by its political vision than any concrete sonic leaning. Sometimes this worked for me, sometimes it didn’t—but Abolitionist were always a band that’d pique my interest. Where others were writing party songs to sing along drunk to, Abolitionist were always pushing their ambition. This is the band that seemed to be churning out concept albums at a point—always writing, always working, always with something to say. Ugly Feeling is their swan song and on it they take their sound further than they ever have before, combining a love for Fugazi with their political perspective, going out with a bang.

Ugly Feeling is like and unlike previous releases in equal measures. It features the same declarative vocal delivery, the same focus on heavy riffs, but they’ve corrected some of my biggest problems with their last release (A New Militance) by taking their new influences a step further. Here, the riffs and leads are given more time to breathe, which in turn emphasizes them more. Songs like “Crossroads” sound that much more sonically precise, the intensity feeling like a product of design rather than suffocation.

There’s still a range of sounds on the album though. Title track “Ugly Feeling” is a hardcore banger whose titular refrain could surely raise fists in a tightly-packed room. Whereas “The Selfish Gene” indulges in a dark and heavy riff, complimenting the album’s bitter commentary. And make no mistake, this is a dark album, and as it moves forward, it only gets darker—and the music reflects this as much as the lyrics.

Much of the album, at least to my understanding, seems to take aim at our culture and the privilege it awards to straight white males. This is an angry album. It’s disgusted with our worship of money, our own self-satisfied nature. There’s a grotesque scene in mid-album banger “Willie B. Bacon” that resonated even with a carnist like myself:

“When he was a boy, there was a pig his parents raised… but not as a pet. He used to go to the pen to visit his doomed friend. He remembers the pungent smell. He remembers the friendly noise. He remembers the coarse, fibrous hair. He remembers a feeling of loss.”

Ugly Feeling, like much of Abolitionists’ work is a concept album and as such follows a single character. Perhaps it’s fitting in “Walls,” the band’s final song (at least for awhile) that the protagonist accepts his own ignorance, admitting “he did not have a clue,” and finally, making the call to “change his ways.” It may be a little clunky, and it may be on the nose, but Abolitionist has always been about the message. Here it is, distilled down to its most basic form, a message of hope that doesn’t skimp on responsibility, an end to an ugly feeling.

This is undoubtedly Abolitionists’ best work to date, and while it’s always sad to see such stalwarts fall by the wayside, it’s nice to see them going out at their peak. Ugly Feeling is punk rock through and through, thick with commentary and heavy with riffs. Fans of the band will be pleased to see Abolitionist didn’t waste their goodbye.

 



Review: CJ Ramone – “The Holy Spell…”

I’m going to start off by saying CJ Ramone’s The Holy Spell… (Fat Wreck Chords) is not a bad album. In fact, The Holy Spell… is a collection of really good songs – songs that would make an excellent batch of 7”s or a few EPs, as opposed to a full album. It’s an album that I don’t mind having on my iPod – when it is on random – but don’t particularly desire to listen to in one go beyond the times I did to write this review. So what’s my point? I am very conflicted about this as a singular piece of music, even though I quite like the individual parts when taken one to two songs at a time.

The thing is, for an album to really work, the songs have to have some variations in melody, harmony, speed, and song style. This one does not. Every song sounds pretty much the same, and as I was listening to it, I found myself becoming more of a passive listener than an active one, checking to see if I was back to the beginning of the album again, as opposed to hearing a new song that appears later on in it. Again, none of the songs are bad. They just don’t particularly stand out from one another in any appreciable way, with the two exceptions, “One High One Low” and “Rock On”.

“One High One Low”, the opening song, is pretty driving – especially for CJ Ramone – and sets up an album with a lot of promise. The last song, “Rock On” slows things down for a bit and is actually a welcome change of pace when listening to The Holy Spell… straight through. I also really like “Postcard from Heaven” which I think would have been an amazing single on its own and is the best song on the album, hands down.

Part of what makes the album blend together, though, is CJ’s voice. I feel like most people like it or don’t, and I do like it just fine, but he tends to sing every song in the same way – never venturing out of his niche or comfort zone and expanding his vocal capabilities to show us something different. This just contributes to the sameness and familiarity of the songs, probably more than the tempo and music, even.  I also really crave more backing vocals and harmonies – some of the songs are all but screaming for them, and sound sparse as a result.

I realize this is a somewhat strange review, but as I said, I am conflicted about this album. I wish it was released in pieces, like I said earlier, perhaps as EPs or singles – all of which would get higher marks because they would be short bursts of music and not an album that seems to go on a bit too long, especially for the lack of diversity in the sound and style of the songs.

2.5/5 stars



Short/Fast/Loud: Thurman – A Day Called X

I was immediately struck by how well Portland’s Thurman managed to balance the tone of their songs. Here was a young band—operating in the self-serious arena of indie-punk—that wasn’t afraid to be playful. They were sad, plaintive, and intense—but they didn’t lead you away from the cracks in their facade. “Choices” is the most obvious example, with its low and high vocal performance sounding like a spit-take to make the bassist fuck up his groove. We always talk about how punk rock is a youthful genre, but sometimes, it’s nice to have the evidence on record too.

A Day Called X is five songs of indie-ish, emo-ish, alt-ish punk rock. It reminded me of the lazy-day angst that Title Fight’s Floral Green managed so effortlessly. Both bands pull from the 90s, but the other 90s, the one that lived in the shadow of the Epifat explosion. Jawbreaker, Sunny Day Real Estate, Sleater-Kinney, Dinosaur Jr.—as time marches on, the scales are being evened and the question of what makes punk rock punk has broadened in some ways and focused in others. Thurman carries this legacy forward with stabbing riffs and a chilled-out, catchy approach to melody.

The songs themselves feel dynamic and powerful, a meeting of strong songwriting and thoughtful arrangements. The guitars pop, never resting on their laurels—chugging, riffing, and arpeggiating through their entirety. “Day X” feels positively crushing for any power trio, but its fuzzed out chords are just one piece of the puzzle. Thurman is a mixture of heavy and soft, pop and punk—and it’s in this tight overlap that they craft their atmospheric brand of indie rock.

CHECK OUT: “Choices,” “Day X,” “Man on Mars”



Album Review: Masked Intruder – “III”

Masked Intruder are one of those bands that people either love or hate, with few on the fence about whether or not they like them. I happen to be one of the people who love them, even if gimmicks aren’t usually my thing when it comes to bands. Yellow, Blue, Red, and Green did it again, though, with their new album, III, which picks up where the band left off with M.I. in 2014. What a wait – even with the “Love and Other Crimes” EP in the middle of it – but they made it worth our time.

The album is full of songs about relationships and crime, as anyone would expect from the band. Nonetheless, it is pop-punk at its finest. The album gets started right away with, “No Case,” an anthem for anyone who can say they are in no way guilty of anything they are being accused of. Which may be a theme for this band, but hey, what works… works.

“All Of My Love” is a super-catchy song that is classic Masked Intruder, as is “Not Fair,” which tells the story of how unfair it is that a girl has a boyfriend who isn’t good enough for her and she’d be better off with the guy stalking her from a treehouse. Because that’s what this band is all about – and exactly why they work so well. (And who hasn’t done something like that once or twice?)

“I’m Free (At Last)” is probably the best song about getting out of jail? A relationship? Both? that’s ever been written. It’s absolutely celebratory and a great sing-along song for anyone who is celebrating any kind of freedom in their lives.  Likewise, “Gimme Parole” is a song just begging for that break for being over a girl. Is the song about literal parole? Figurative? Does it matter? Not in the slightest. The song is catchy and fun and a single minute of nothing other than pop punk perfection.

Each song segues perfectly into the next and there’s not a weak link among the twelve songs that make up III. For a band only on their third full-length release, this is quite an accomplishment. Most bands have at least one annoying or subpar song, but not Masked Intruder.

This is the punk rock I grew up on – only taken to the next level. Lots of love, lots of heartbreak, lots of innocence, lots of crime… a bit of stalking… and total fun. Even they know they sound like The Queers and all the Lookout! bands of the 1990s – mixed with more rock and even doo-wop influences. The band says they are influenced by everything from the Mr. T Experience and Misfits to Journey and Boston. This should not work, and yet it does. Carried by harmony and driving punk rock music, this is far and away an album that can be considered a triumph for the band.

This is one of my favorites of 2019, thus far, and probably still will be at the end of the year. There’s not a bad song on the whole album, so it is most certainly going to be on heavy rotation, where it belongs. Nonetheless, I’ll do my best not to use it as an instructional guide to life, lest Office Bradford comes looking for me.

You can stream the album below to hear what I am talking about and decide for yourself. Great? Or GREAT?

4/5 Stars