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Album Review: Teenage Bubblegums – “In Limbo”

When it comes to music, an often overused phrase I hear regarding bands is something along the lines of “wow, their sound has really matured”. More often than not, it hasn’t and the listener is left listening to an album that’s about the same as the last. This is definitely not the case with “In Limbo”, the newest album by Teenage Bubblegums. This trio from Italy has been maturing their sound over the last 10 years with each and every album they’ve released… “In Limbo” is no exception.

What I love about Teenage Bubblegums is their no nonsense approach to pop punk, and yes, I still consider it pop punk. Each song hits you one after another like rapid fire and before you can even get comfy you realize you’re already on your second spin of the album. If you’re looking for a lyrically light-hearted, feel good album about sunshine and daisies, this may not be the album for you. What Teenage Bubblegums does so well is deliver self-described songs about “sad stuff” in the catchiest way possible that’s both dark and mesmeric. 

The album is only 14 minutes long, but that doesn’t matter. I can almost guarantee that you’ll listen to this album over and over again in a single sitting to make up any time you feel they may have shorted you. The dueling brother and sister vocals along with the cohesiveness of the songs draw you in deep and keep you wanting more. There’s not a lot of variation in tempo in these songs, but that’s part of the charm. Teenage Bubblegums kicks in the door, announces that they’re here, and then leaves the door wide open reminding you that they were there.

They begin the album with a short intro, a journey into the darkness that “In Limbo” is going to lead you through. Immediately after the intro comes bass player Ally’s menacing band announcement and laugh, letting you know it’s go time! They immediately dive into “Quit It”, the first song on the album. We’re greeted with Luca’s blistering hi-hats as well as a heavy guitar and bass that carry through the entirety of the album. This song is about expecting more from life and the desire to “quit it” and it really sets you up for the dismal tone of the rest of the album.

Lyrically there is definitely a theme throughout the entire album, and each song is a short poetic, yet dejected masterpiece. The entirety of “In Limbo” to me tells the story of a few lost souls wandering in a state of ignorance and sadness, unable to find their way through a doomed reality. It wasn’t until I read the lyrics on their Bandcamp that I realized how dark and deep this album really is. It also shows that a lot can be said in a short amount of words.

Each track is fast, catchy and provides plenty of opportunity to sing along. They’re mostly straightforward, but there are a few surprises in a few of them. For example, “Burn” has a nice breakdown that happens almost out of nowhere and adds another great element to the song musically. Teenage Bubblegums doesn’t allot themselves a ton of time, so they make it a point to do as much as they can in the amount they’ve given themselves.

The title track, “In Limbo”, like the others, is short and to the point and features a great hook in the form of a call and response between the siblings. The guitar and bass almost dance in the background while the drums drive you through the song. The pounding floor tom towards the end provides a nice intermission before the chorus picks up again to finish it out.

The song “High” doesn’t hesitate to propel you directly to the pre-chorus and chorus. Before you know it you’re singing along to the song, it ends and it’s on to the next one. The most mysterious thing I find with Teenage Bubblegums’ lyrics is that it’s not always obvious to the listener what they’re about exactly. My interpretation of “High” is that it tells a story of a person suffering from a closetted depression and drug addiction, clinging to life alone while no one knows. Pairing subject matter like that with catchy songs is what makes this band stand out from the rest.

My favorite song, “Shame”, starts off with a heavy riff that teeters between chords like a seesaw. There’s something about the tone in Marco’s voice at the beginning that give this song a different feel to it. When you hear the catchiness of the chorus, “Baby I’m on fire!”, you almost forget that the song is about someone who is overcome with so much humiliation and loneliness that they feel like they’re “on fire”. The song structure is almost a mirror of itself. Not only do I love how the verse is repeated between the two singers before coming together in the chorus, I also love that in the first verse Marco sings first, and in the second verse Ally sings first. Lyrically, it’s a very well thought out song.

If you’re from the United States, hopefully you were fortunate to catch Teenage Bubblegums on their tour that just wrapped up. If you enjoy streaming “In Limbo”… you’ll most definitely enjoy seeing it played live. I knew I wasn’t going to be disappointed with this album, because as I alluded to earlier, Teenage Bubblegums is a band that gets exponentially better with every single one of their releases. They pull off something most bands of a specific genre cannot, and that’s putting their own brand on it. Although this album is short, it’s very clear that they spent a lot of time and effort on it. “In Limbo” was just released and I already want more!



Album Review: Various Artists – “Red Scare Industries: 15 Years of Tears and Beers”

I’m never quite sure where to place compilation albums in the grand scheme of things. Are they disposable? Are they art? To this day I’m not sure, and because I missed out on the days of Punk-a-rama, I may never truly understand where a good comp falls into one’s collection. If I were to hazard a guess though, in a world where everything is perfect and physical media has not yet been grounded by cardiac arrest, I would want a good comp to be something akin to your coolest friend with the coolest taste sitting you down and saying: “listen to this.”

I like to think that’s where Red Scare Industries: 15 Years of Tears and Beers falls into place. And if there’s anyone to inhabit the role of coolest friend with coolest taste, it’s without a doubt Red Scare’s mastermind Tobias Jeg. 15 Years of Tears and Beers serves as a reminder to all the great music Red Scare has brought us over the years, featuring fifteen artists that helped shape the label into the monster it is today. 

The best part of this whole thing though, is that these are new songs. This isn’t just a greatest hits collection of some classic Red Scare alums—these are hot new tracks from some of the finest punk rock songwriters in the game today. The Copyrights start things off with one of my favorite songs by them, period (“Maine or Oregon”). It’s as fast and catchy as just about anyone familiar with the Copyrights would expect, and it’s less than a minute long. Sincere Engineer makes an appearance with “Dragged Across the Finish Line,” another song that I thought was just stellar. Funny enough, this is one of those groups that I could never get into, but recently, I seem to recall Jeg saying that Sincere Engineer wasn’t a singer-songwriter thing, but in actuality a stealth gruff-punk thing. This shifted my perspective quite a bit, and on this track, I totally hear it. “Dragged Across the Finish Line” is a total banger with lots of heart that sounds like something straight out of the camps of Hot Water Music and Lawrence Arms. 

There’s a couple of great covers on this one. The Menzingers are represented by Broadway Calls who cover their classic “Sunday Morning,” with a grounded pop-punk approach. Billy Liar ends the album with a Nothington cover of “The Escapist.” Both of these tracks provide a little familiarity in the mix as well as a sense of living history. At the end of the day, 15 Years of Tears and Beers is a celebration, and is working tirelessly not to give you a sense of dour self-importance, but a sense of fun surrounding all of the great music that’s happened because of Red Scare. This is fun, covers are fun; the message is clear: have fun. 

There are too many tracks to call out by name as favorites here, but I’ll list a couple that I thought were standouts. Elway’s “High Drama, Low Comedy” knocks it out of the park here. This is a band, much like Sincere Engineer, that I never got into. First it was the Elway is Jerks meme that went around PunkNews that I mistook for people actually calling the people in the band out as rockstar divas (apparently, I was quite wrong, and they are good folks). Second, it was For the Sake of the Bit’s aim at taking down internet music reviewers, which hit a little too close to home for me, because, well—guess what I am? Either way, I can’t deny that this song is a banger and it might just be what forces me to reconsider Elway. Shout out in particular to the Queen-ish guitar solo bridge, inspired stuff. 

“Dead Body” by Garrett Dale of Red City Radio is a ridiculous, catchy song that stopped me in my tracks on the first listen. Dale is clearly having fun with this one, where you can hear him exclaiming “this has got to be the dumbest song” after a killer sax break. And hey, maybe it is—but it’s fun as Hell (and as I established earlier, fun is the name of the game). It’s like an oldies radio hit born in 2019 and is a clear highlight of the whole album. 

But if that’s not enough for you, you also have great tracks from MakeWar, Ramona, Tightwire, The Bombpops, and many, many others. What I’m trying to say here is: this thing is stacked! And it’s not just big names, it’s big songs. What struck me most about 15 Years was the sheer quality from start to finish. It’s a diverse collection of great songs from the Red Scare roster, and if you ask me, it’s worth all the tears and beers to get there. 

 

4.5/5



Album Review: The Yodees – “S/T”

What do you get when you combine all the great elements of pop punk and mix them with a splash of Ramonescore? You get the first self-titled album from the Brazilian band, The Yodees!

Clocking in at just under 23 minutes, The Yodees let you know that they’re playing for a specific pop punk audience… and the bands that inspire them can be heard throughout each of the nine songs on the album. What you won’t hear is music that’s played in malls, mainstream radio or movie soundtracks. This album isn’t for fans of New Found Glory or Simple Plan… and that’s what I love about it. The Yodees remind the punk rock world that there’s another type of pop punk that’s alive and well, and won’t be found in Hot Topic. 

Perhaps one of the most impressive things about this album is the amazing sound quality it possesses. Most bands take a few albums to dial in their sound and figure out how it should be captured on a record. It is clear The Yodees took their time with their debut and added the right amount of polish to produce an overall cohesive album in both sound quality and song selection. The tempos vary as well as the moods of each of the nine songs on this album, and each one tells a different story of falling in love, falling out of love, being foolish and growing up.

With their first song, “Better Without Love,” The Yodees knock on your door with a thunderous drum intro reminiscent of the Methadones, Mopes and even the Huntingtons. It’s a great way to introduce the band and prepare listeners for the type of punk they’re about to take in. The song touches upon a familiar subject matter that most other pop punk bands dabble in from time to time: a relationship about to end. But rather than talk about it in a celebrated and snotty way, The Yodees approach the subject in a more reserved and mature manner with a sound to match. There’s guitars with the right amount of chugging and drums that propel the song forward while keeping it interesting with tasty, but simplistic fills. The Yodees aren’t here to overplay. They fit right into the pop punk pocket musically and keep you comfortable and wanting more of what’s familiar.

“Loony” begins with a classic Ramonescore tom intro and count off that would make Dee Dee smile. Immediately, chainsaw guitars you’d hear from any great Screeching Weasel song kick in along with a driving and catchy vocal melody. We were warming up before, but now this album is cooking. This is the song I didn’t know I was waiting for, and now that it’s here I can’t wait to learn the words. This song has everything, including a silly chorus that I know you’ll be caught singing along to, even if you don’t mean to.   

About halfway through the album we’re given “The Vitamin Shoppe Girl”… a ballad about a guy with a crush on you guessed it, a Vitamin Shoppe girl. It tells the story of a day in the life of a man desperate to talk to the girl of his dreams. We’ve all been there one way or another… and this connection along with the catchy verse and chorus make this one catchy tune. It’s serves as a nice break after the upbeat “Loony” and introduces layered backups that remind me of every great Queers ballad. The line, “Vitamin Shoppe Girl, you’re everything that my body needs,” is a cheeky play on words. Is it access to all the vitamins that your body needs or something else? I’ll have to ask him in person.

After a couple mid tempo songs comes “Everybody Is Growing Up (But Me)” and we’ve officially thrown a few more logs on the fire. A crunchy guitar intro leads into a Kody Lillington style chord progression. Just like the songs that have come before it, this song has everything that makes up a great song: a strong verse, well thought out pre-chorus, and chorus that just makes you want to point your fist in the air and sing along.  “Everybody is Growing Up (But Me)” tells the story of a friend that everyone has, or at least I have. A friend that is a little behind in life… not married, no kids, and feeling hopeless while watching other friends achieve these milestones. The beginning of the song has the character questioning whether or not he’s the one who’s wrong and if he should be feeling sorry for himself. Towards the end we’re given another perspective… when he realizes that while he may not have all the things his friends enjoy, he’s still able to “live his prime” while being debt free.

The Yodees debut album is a celebration of pop punk. Are they reinventing any wheels?  No. But when you play in a sub genre of a sub genre that has a tight knit and loyal following you don’t have to. The Yodees will do well, because they do their style of pop punk well. As this debut album demonstrates… even the simplest and easiest style of music, when done great, makes an impact and can stay with you… maybe even bring you back for a few more listens. Listening to this S/T is almost like listening to an amazing pop punk compilation, only there’s one band. The mix of mid tempo songs, ballads, and rippers creates an amazing rollercoaster effect that has a perfectly executed arrangement. I hope to see these guys tour the US in the future. I already know we’ll be hearing more from them.

Stream the album now on Bandcamp or Spotify!





Album Review: Off With Their Heads – “Be Good”

The last time Off With Their Heads (OWTH) released new music was their 2013 album Home. After seeing the band support Against Me! In Melbourne and having never listened to them before, I gave Home a listen as soon as it was released and almost instantly OWTH became my favourite band. Over the past 6 years a lot as happened for OWTH and their lead singer Ryan Young; a nervous breakdown, constant touring, the successful Anxious & Angry Podcast – morphing into a record label, online store and screen printing business – and an acoustic album in 2016. Similarly, a lot has happened for me; I stopped drinking heavily, graduated university, got a good job, fell in love and got married and don’t need the music of OWTH in the same way I used to. That said, it’s been a long, long wait for the diehard fans of OWTH, but finally – after 6 years – there is a new album “Be Good”. 

The album artwork is brighter than their older music, featuring a scene of women in 1940’s style dresses, enjoying the sun on a beach, while the smoke stack of a power plant looms over them in the background. The first pressing vinyl is released in “Pollution” or “Blue Sky” colour-ways and it feels like a choose your own adventure. Interestingly the Blue Sky vinyl sold out first, giving an indication of optimism in the community while I had to remain true to the reason I love OWTH; the honesty, raw pain and helplessness they sing with – buying the pollution vinyl. As soon as the opening track plays it becomes apparent that this album is not a positive and is not a choose your own adventure, it is filled with the same emotion and hurt as all OWTH work. 

The opening track, titled “Disappear”, is the most different OWTH song that I can recall. It starts with raw vocals by Ryan backed with only very minor guitar, building slightly from the 30 second mark before Ryan repeats the opening lyrics 1 minute in this time screaming, “I SHOULD HAVE SEEN THIS FROM THE START” and from then the song is recognizably OWTH. As “Disappear” comes to an end, it flows seamlessly into the title track “Be Good” indicating there is a definite and intended flow to this album; all the more reason to listen to it on vinyl. “Be Good” opens with The Arrivals’ style drum rolls, building up to even more screaming by Ryan as he declares “I can’t take anymore, I just want out RIGHT NOW”. As I write this review I’m reading the lyrics to “Be Good” for the first time and as I hear Ryan sing the words that I’m reading I get goosebumps. For how much better Ryan has been doing since the release of “Home”, this song describes the intense toll that so many years of severe depression and anxiety have taken on his mental health. It is a song about doing all you can to be good and make a positive impact, but it is also a song about being exhausted and destroyed from years of mental illness; “I had assumed I would have been gone by now – but the ship has weathered the storm – and the feeling of defeat that lies underneath is still alive and on it’s course – I’m destroyed”. 

Half way through the album, at “Take Me Away” the album has returned to the softer and quieter sound that was present on “Disappear”. This time the softer sound hangs around for about half the song, on and off, as Ryan sings about needing space to figure things out; I’m speculating here but it feels like it is about the breakdown that led to the start of the Anxious & Angry Podcast and getting proper help for his mental health issues. Up next is “Tear Me Apart” and while the song naming convention is similar, there is real flow between the two songs. While “Take Me Away” is an introspective look at how Ryan felt at a particular point in time, “Tear Me Apart” is welcoming external criticism of his behaviours, acknowledging he deserved them at the time. Doubling down on my speculation, assuming I was correct about “Take Me Away”, this song would seem to about the aftermath of his breakdown and deserving being torn apart by his bandmates and girlfriend. 

The 8th song “Let It All” is a return to the OWTH sound from their 2007 album “All Things Move Toward Their End” – I think this is caused by the distorted recording sound along with the return to a more melodic sound. I’m not sure what it is about this song but it is probably the funnest song on the album to listen to, there’s something about the chorus “inside for far too long, pulling my strings – singing my songs” which is extremely enjoyable to listen to and sing along to. The second last song, “Locking Eyes” is the most consistently slow and quiet song on the album. It is a song of loss, of losing someone who kept coming back until they have been pushed one too many times. As Ryan screams “I know its all my fault – I know I deserve it all” over soft music, the pain in his voice is palpable. From here, the album fades into the final song, “Death”, which is the only instrumental that I know of OWTH ever doing as it carries on the sound of “Locking Eyes” for close to another 3 minutes as the album fades out. 

Ryan and the rest of OWTH get full marks on growth and development on this album, it is clearly different to their other music and one could argue more mature. For me, it doesn’t quite live up to the urgency of “Home” but it could just be that I don’t need the album as much as I needed “Home” when I first heard it. “Be Good” is for OWTH fans new and old, but even more than that it is for Ryan and the band members, and nothing we as listeners can say about the album will change that this is what they needed at this time. It was well worth the 6 year wait, and I’ll be happy to wait for more.

4/5 Stars



Album Review: MakeWar – “Get It Together”

Developing a Theory of Integrity was one of my favorite releases back in 2016. Back then, they were on Red Scare—one in a long line of bands that helped carve out the label’s reputation as having the best ear for signings in the game. Now, three years later, MakeWar has come a long way. In the interim, I had the pleasure of seeing them play twice—and two times I got a look into their continued development, and subsequent dominance, within the world of melodic punk. Once at Fest: where they played one of the best sets of the weekend (complete with a blow-up orca bouncing around the moshpit—you know, the one from the album cover). People were into it; loving it, eating it up. This was a crowd of fans who knew every word, who had already adopted their latest release into their all-time favorites. MakeWar had made good on everything their song’s promised. The second time I saw them, they were on the bill of a mega tour, opening for Lagwagon and Face to Face. Of course, this was writing on the wall, writing I should’ve read. MakeWar was poised to release on Fat Wreck Chords, joining the talented masses that got their start on Red Scare and graduated to the upper echelon of modern punk. 

If any band can do it, it’s MakeWar. This is a band that thrives on the one X-factor that can make or break a group: songwriting. Anyone who’s heard Developing a Theory of Integrity knows that these guys have chops to spare when it comes to writing great songs. They match these catchy anthems with something akin to early Against Me! arrangements, stabbing strums and a penchant for gang vocals; a tightly wound three-piece with fantastic songs—what’s not to love?

Get it Together is a continuation of all the most important aspects of MakeWar. Their Latin American identity is put front and center, with two songs in Spanish sung by bassist Edwin. The first of them, “No Mas,” is a melodic hardcore rager with a staccato machine-gun vocal rhythm that rattles off Spanish with an ear-pleasing fluidity. This thread is also continued by “Hands on the Tyrant,” one of the most striking and personal songs on the album, directly addressing singer Jose Prieto’s native Venezuela. Both these songs and others feel like a more active engagement with their identity than the anthems on their last record, while still supplying hooks aplenty. For my money, perspective is one of the most important attributes of great songwriting, and here, it’s put front and center. 

The heart-on-the-sleeve introspection, however, is still one of the band’s most powerful motors, brought forth into the Fat Wreck era by album opener “Hopeless Dreamer.” The song is propelled by chugging guitars and some killer backing vocals. The lyrics range from aspirational to slice-of-life conversational (“Is it cool if I close my eyes just for a bit?”); just as ever, they’re relatable and hard-hitting, the sort of stuff you can feel falling off your tongue from the first time you hear it. 

MakeWar has always had a loud, brash, aspirational center indebted to the best of punk’s rhetoric. And in a world where it’s harder than ever to be an artist, this is not only charming, but admirable. “Oh, Brother” is an ode to a life lived in the punk scene, told as an all too familiar story. “Welcome to the world of punk, freaks and geeks and silly drugs,” begins the chorus. It’s a rallying cry, an ode to playing music in spite of all the constructs that make it near impossible. The bridge is perhaps one of the most emotionally powerful I’ve heard in recent years, a declaration to its listeners to embrace the grind, to create in endless defiance. 

“Sails” matches this discontent with a fantasy of leaving the nine-to-five to sail around the world (in a parallel to “Sallie” from Developing a Theory of Integrity). It’s one of the best songs on the album, undoubtedly one of the catchiest. While the subject matter has been tread before, the tone is more ethereal, feeling like a daydream brought to life, something that the lighter guitars on this album bring to a more fully realized cohesion. 

In the case of “Sails,” the lighter sounds on Get it Together help sell the content of the song. But other times, it feels like perfunctory growth. MakeWar has an album full of great songs, and a lot of them will come to define the band, I truly believe that. But, I can’t help but feel their sound was more impactful on their last outing. Before, they had that jittery, crunchy intensity that really fed into that sing-your-lungs-out, emotional punk aesthetic. Here, the goods still survive with a slicker package, but I’m often left with the question: why? There’s more treble, there’s more reverb, and sometimes a spare effects pedal is thrown into the mix—but for the most part, it doesn’t do much to develop the band’s sound in any notable way. It feels like a new coat of paint for the sake of painting, an affectation rooted more in their move to Fat Wreck than in the band’s core identity. Get it Together is a great album, but sonically, it sounds like a band developing in the most usual way. 

Luckily, while the production seldom adds much, it doesn’t take away much either, leaving me only with a couple of gripes to go with a handful of new favorite songs. In my mind, it’s a fair trade. Get it Together is MakeWar doing everything they did great on the last album, and now doing it better. What’s added to the mix this time is the band’s political content, which is exciting and illuminating across the board. They’ve embraced themselves to a greater degree than ever, and in that, they’ve codified their identity as artists and musicians. 

 

4.5/5



Album Review: The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street

Hailing from Perth, Australia, The Decline are back with their fourth studio album; Flash Gordon Ramsay Street. This album is a return to the fast, loud punk rock that underpinned their first 2 albums but went missing somewhat on their previous release “Resistor”. You could be forgiven for thinking that this album is a 90’s or early 2000’s punk band signed to Fat Wreck Chords, it has definitely got that Southern California punk feel about it. 

The album artwork is uniquely Australian with a Kookaburra sitting on a street sign that reads the album title “Flash Gordon Ramsay Street” in front of a court bowl bearing resemblance to that of Ramsay Street. For non-Australian (or British) readers; Ramsay Street is iconic for being the setting of terrible Australian soap opera “Neighbours”. The process of nonsensically joining pairs of words that flow into one another, the way a rapper – or schizophrenic – may, is continued from the album title to the 6th song ‘Summerbucht’ and the 13th song ’Bahia De Verano’. These songs, each 5 seconds long, include the same 15 words “flash Gordon Ramsay street fighter pilot light sabre tooth fairy dust Pan Pacific rim job” as the former ramps up in intensity and the latter winds down with the album. 

The album reaches a value-for-money 17 songs but only checks in at 30min in length, ensuring the listener doesn’t lose interest or get bored throughout the album. Kicking off with the very solid “Bullet With Buffalo Wings”, the album really comes into its own on the second -and arguably the best- song “Brovine”.  Without having any context, it is hard to tell whether this song is about sexual harassment and domestic abuse, or factory farms and meat-eating – most likely it is about both. The songs’ verses are tied together with a chorus-chant of “fuck off with your macho shit” sung with such passion that I can’t help but join in every time it is sung, I can only imagine this would be amazing in a live show. The albums intensity continues to rise through the fourth song “War” which features guest singer Nuno Pereira of A Wilhelm Scream taking control of the song for a single verse that completely changes from The Decline’s usual sound to that AWS.

The guest vocals don’t end there, the very next song, “A Verge Collection”, features Stacy Dee of Bad Cop Bad Cop as the girlfriend that the protagonist is running from. As the album approaches the end, the mood is lifted slightly by the song “Get Hyrule, Save Zelda” which features slightly more poppy music over a more relaxed set of lyrics about playing Zelda. For Australian music fans, it is worth identifying this song as another – “Get, See” song, starting with The Smith Street Band’s “Get High, See Mice”, Lincoln Le Fevre’s “Get Drunk, See Bands” and Luca Brasi’s “Get Sad, See No One”. 

The raised mood is only temporary before the album ends on a particularly sad pair of songs, “Your Funeral” and “Josh”. “Your Funeral” is the only slow song on the album and is sung with serious emotion; the lyrics express concern for an old friend, the lyrics “feels like we wrote the whole of Eat That in your background over beers” identifies the friend in trouble as a past band member and quite likely former vocalist Dan Cribb. The song focuses on the friends mental health issues, not being in contact with the friend and the associated feeling of not being able to do anything to make a difference. This leads into the louder “Josh” a tribute to a friend who has died and how different things are now that he is gone. This doesn’t have the raw sadness of “Your Funeral” and feels more like a celebration of the life and good times that were shared before the passing of Josh. 

The album has really put The Decline back in the drivers seat of Australian punk rock and demonstrates that they should be far more famous than they are. A little more touring to get their music out there and this album would be taking out the top spot on a lot of reviewers end of year lists. 

4.5/5 Stars



Album Review: Filthy Hearts “Beyond Repair”

 

If you are a fan of the late 90’s, early 2000’s brand of Midwestern whiskey soaked pop punk like Dillinger Four, Dear Landlord, or Off With Their Heads, Denver’s Filthy Hearts newest album Beyond Repair, out now via Hidden Home Records, will most definitely be in your wheelhouse. It is honest and emotional, a catharsis masked behind gritty guitars and sing-along choruses.

“Every day I’m trying to be better than I used to be” is the very first lyric that greets us in the album opener “Ambulatory” and it sets the tone for the entirety of this album. Aggressively delivered self reflection followed with a catchy chorus of “Ambulatory, sick of being so fucking mean… tired of being bitter about everything” is the exact type of self awareness that makes this album so intriguing. The idea of self improvement while being acutely aware of your faults is an idea that everyone can get behind.

“Drinking Wells (is the Best Revenge)” is the type of desperate poetry that is only found at the bottom of the bottle, a way to find some chemically induced false courage in self confidence. This lack of confidence gets revisited in “Hiding Behind the Volume” which soon becomes real confidence once the “music takes my soul, and I forget about the past… the music makes you smile, and I know it’s not just me, and it’s time to go and have some fun.” Perhaps an indication that confidence may not need to be chemically induced. The idea of doing something you do well, as a means to overcoming the nemesis of overthinking, is a confidence booster, especially when there is the positive reinforcement of a crowd full of people have fun with you.

However Filthy Hearts must believe in delayed gratification because before they fully deliver on the fun time premise, they break your heart with a massive tempo break in “Voted Best City to be Lonely”. An almost acoustic number, that has an electric build and features a bassline that attempts to vibrate the sadness into your soul. The whiskey inspired poetry is moved to the forefront once again as “we both took a bottle of shots, and keep drinking till the dark takes you in. Hearts will remain empty tonight” they lament while the guitars develop an intensity that sucks you into the feeling of despair presented.

Immediately following this sadness is “I’ve Never Skanked a Day in My Life” a fun little blitzkrieg of a song. Encouraging us to clap our hands or stomp our feet and sing along, as a way to have fun and not think about tomorrow. “Get out of your mind and have a good time, It’s the only thing we can do better”

There are a few songs that cover the idea of finding things to do better or at the very least finding a way to escape from the way you think about problems, such as “Desire”, “Dreams of Youth” and the break-necked “Seasons”, but none better than ”Career Day” where they encourage you to run away from the machinations of the daily grind at a thankless job because “There’s a better life out there for you and me, a life off the clock, out of this machine.” The outro of “I want to run away” is delivered with such conviction and despair that it is chill inducing.

The album ends with “And I Don’t Even Have Kids” which evokes thoughts of a small bar packed to capacity with the entire crowd desperately singing along. By far their most political song, it comes across as a punk rock State of the Union, complete with back and forth vocals, driving and pulsating guitar work, sing along “woahs” and a giant middle finger to the “greedy selfish fucks” in our government. It almost seems that amongst the self reflection presented on this album, the environment we live in could be creating the very sense of sadness and despair presented.

On Beyond Repair Filthy Hearts deliver honest barrel-aged punk as they take the classic Midwestern sound and mix in a touch of hardcore and skatepunk. The result is an intrinsic experience best enjoyed sung out loud in a club full of your friends, a beer in one hand and a raised fist in the other. It is most certainly one of the years strongest albums and is most likely going to be on on some year end lists.



Album Review: The Menzingers – “Hello Exile”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/5*

*This score is meaningless. Listen to the album. 



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5/5 Stars



Album Review: The Planet Smashers “Too Much Information”

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

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

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

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

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

4.5/5 Stars



Album Review: Ink Bomb – “Fiction”

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

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

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

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

4.5/5 Stars



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

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

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

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

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

 

4.5/5



Album Review: Good Grief – “Square One”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Check out:

 



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

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

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

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

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

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