Search Results for "Album Review"

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/5



Album Review: Goldfinger – “The Knife”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/5 Stars



Album Review: Chris Fox – “Portly Formed” EP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.5/5 Stars



Album Review: Mad Caddies – “Punk Rocksteady”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s to overwhelming amounts of importance.

4/5 Stars



Album Review: Turnspit – “Desire Paths”

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

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

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

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

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

4/5 Stars



Album Review: Forever Unclean! – “Woof”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.5/5 Stars



Album Review: Tiny Moving Parts – “Swell”

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

Always with the arguments!
C’mon, people.

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

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

Here’s to art, tho.

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

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

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

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

Time passed.
More time passed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

5/5 Stars



Album Review: Astpai – “True Capacity”

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

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

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

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

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

3.5/5

 



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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Album Review: Abolitionist – “The Instant”

It took longer for me to get Abolitionist than I like to admit. I remember eyeing the Portland area as a potential home, years before I was even close to taking the plunge. In preparation, I listened to every Portland punk band I could find. A part of me wanted to be convinced, and of course, a part of me wanted new music. I found a lot of cool bands, but something about Abolitionist just didn’t stick to me. Back in those days, they had a pop punk tag on bandcamp and I can’t help but think of myself, back then, straining to hear how Abolitionist would’ve sat alongside Teenage Bottlerocket, Off With Their Heads, or Direct Hit! It wasn’t really that melodic, but it was aggressive, had cool art, and was supposed to sell me on a city I kinda-sorta was seeing myself in down the road. But back then—I just didn’t get it.

Well, flash forward. I live in Vancouver, WA, a bridge away from Abolitionists’ hometown and I’m armed with a lot more knowledge and taste. Since then, I’ve recognized that pop punk tag as an influence, not an iron-barred cage, and I’ve expanded my listening experiences enough to place them in a different, and altogether more punk tradition. It took their last EP to open my eyes, and when I finally saw them for what they are (rather than what the bandcamp tag sold them as), I saw Abolitionist as the torchbearers of the Revolution Summer—that glorious and exciting period of punk rock when DC hardcore started to stretch its legs and experiment with both confessional lyrics, slowed down jams, and melody—outrightly rejecting macho posturing and violence. When I hear Abolitionist now, I hear Dag Nasty, One Last Wish, Rites of Spring, and Fuel, but their innovation is in taking the rawness and musical melody of the aforementioned while laser-focusing their lyrics through a political and narrative lens.

The Instant follows in this vein, and of course, it’s a concept album tightly woven around it’s theme—one day, the people of the world wake up, and they suddenly give a shit. The concept itself is simultaneously cynical, hopeful, and absurd, but Abolitionist explore it thoroughly, with twists and turns galore. Better still though, even as committed as it is to its storytelling, the album never becomes bloated. The songs are short and declarative and the whole album clocks in at a breezy twenty-three minutes.

The reason the Revolution Summer comparison rings so loud for me is in the fundamentals of Abolitionists’ approach to music. “A Little Animal Liberation Never Hurt Anybody” is a good example of their sonic palette. A soaring, hopeful guitar melody leads into a power chord progression marked with lyrics like, “Burned down the factories, freed the slaves. Changed our diet, changed our ways.” Abolitionist sounds like a band using the hardcore framework, but adapting it to their taste. Their vocals are barked, sometimes with a sense of muted melody, but look no further than the bands that formed the basis for post-hardcore to see another group stretching under the confines of punk’s most restrictive style. Another comparison, especially in regards to “A Little Animal Liberation…” is Paint It Black, whose song “Invisible” similarly uses a big major guitar melody to create a sense of triumph in a dark world, a merging of music and lyrics never explored in straight hardcore beyond the default of aggression.

But, as this is a narrative album, there are highs and lows. “Backlash” is a gang-vocaled stomper, and probably the closest to a straightforward hardcore punk song on the album, as well as the shortest song on the album. The final track, “The Lonesome Death,” feels complacent in comparison—a jaunty, but broken record of the album’s final downbeat note, mimicking the lyrical bent with subtle precision. “We live in a veritable utopia!” is The Instant’s last line and it is both a claim, a question, and a critique.  

The Instant is an incredibly concise album. In fact, I would consider it a unique counterpoint to longer concept albums like David Comes to Life and The Monitor, which is not to say that those albums are any worse, but that they adapted punk rock to the world of the rock opera, where Abolitionist has adapted the rock opera to punk rock—cutting down it’s run time, zeroing in on it’s focus, and fitting it to the meter of loud and fast. The DC influence on the album allows the band to play with melody without succumbing to it entirely—and in confluence with its run-time makes for an experience that is as urgent and engaging as its message.

 

4/5



Album Review: Iron Chic – “You Can’t Stay Here”

One of the things I look forward to the most about Christmas and the New Year is reading the year end lists that get posted on various music sites. I always discover a release or two that I’ve missed which helps brighten what can sometimes be a dreary start to the year. You Can’t Stay Here by Iron Chic was one of these, I checked it out in early 2018 a few months after it’s release in the previous October and it’s been in heavy rotation ever since.

These guys have been around a few years now, this is their third release and first on SideOneDummy. They play a compelling brand of melodic punk rock which ranges from gruff beardcore to a lighter, poppier sound and touches on some emo-esque introspect as well. They’re a five piece who aren’t afraid to crank up the distortion and also throw in some samples, a bit of synth (if my ears don’t deceive me) and a female vocal pops up a few times to great effect. We get eleven songs here however the way each song segues into the next makes the album feel like one epic piece of music rather than eleven separate servings.

This record was written in the wake of the death of their former guitarist Rob McAllister and lyrically this album takes us on a journey through grief, nihilism, religion and finally what feels like acceptance. There are some pretty dark themes however they are delivered in such exceptional style that it helps the listener accept or process the messages within. The album kicks off with a couple of upbeat rockers, opening with 20 some seconds of distortion which gives way to a nice jangly riff before the band kick in with a hearty scream to boot. The lyrics are incredible throughout, it’s definitely an album to be enjoyed with headphones on and a lyric sheet in front of you. Track three, and title track, takes the foot off the pedal slightly with an intro that swells and builds over the course of a minute before a multi-layered wall of sound crashes down on you during one of the more emo points of the record. Let’s. Get. Dangerous. picks us up with a bright little riff and the song is a poppy antidote to the previous offering (“we both know life is temporary” simultaneously reassuring and demoralising us). Thunderbolts! comes next with some soaring back-up vocals during the chorus that bring to mind several Samiam songs – high praise indeed. Planes, Chest Pains and Automobiles rocks along nicely, painting a bleak but often realistic view of life (“Here on Earth, Where we serve our terms, And it hurts like hell, But we do it well)”. This leads into a meandering intro to next song Golgotha which was one that immediately grabbed my attention on my first run through the album. It’s a mid-tempo affair which takes us on an emotional rollercoaster and, for me, this song is all about the vocals and the lyrics. I’m pretty sure I listened to this song four or five times back to back just to learn the words and understand what the song was saying. It’s epic. This is followed by another couple of melodic rockers, Invisible Ink again bringing to mind Astray era Samiam. Ruinous Calamity starts out with a solo acoustic vibe before the full band kick in. I can imagine that when this is played live, there are a number of sweaty strangers in front of the stage, many with beards, arm in arm screaming the words towards the microphone. And I bet that feels pretty fucking great as well. To Shreds, You Say, the album closer, provides a great summation of the lyrical theme (“It’s been a long hard year, Started fine but it ends in tears, One down, We’re that much deader, This one ain’t shaping up much better”) and is an absolute belter to finish on. It rips along at a great pace and provides what feels like closure, although on close inspection the lyrics are a fairly even split between hopefulness and resignation. Regardless, it’s a fitting end to an exceptional record which these boy can be proud of.

4.5/5 Stars



Album Review: The Creeps – “Beneath the Pines”

Punk rock, for me, begins with introspection. Now before I get tarred and feathered—anarchy, fucking-the-system, cops, politics, veganism, gender identity, and more are all just as equally valid. Blame it on the records I grew up with, blame it on my soft, mushy, poetic heart—but there’s still nothing more thrilling to me than self discovery. Navel gazing is the diving board that sends you plummeting into ideas. More and more, I can’t help but think that Guerilla Poubelle was right, and punk rock is existentialism. On the journey to change, we look inward; and I can’t help but think, all this moshing and screaming was us thrashing towards our own authenticity.

But gone are the days where punk meant only one thing. In the last thirty years, the genre has become a vehicle for self-reflection and a number of albums have shown the merit of this approach. Jawbreaker’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy, Hot Water Music’s Fuel For the Hate Game, and later, Against Me!’s Reinventing Axl Rose. The thread continues to the modern day and the music has become punk canon, a source of influence and intertextuality—conscious and subconscious—a sonic and perspective bookmark to flip back to when a comparison is warranted.

The CreepsBeneath the Pines very much follows in that same headspace, even if they don’t ape the sounds. Thematics aside, first and foremost, this is an album of great songs. And second, The Creeps are a pop punk band. What this means to the listener, is that this is a record with an even rarer color palette. Beneath the Pines is personal, melancholy, and melodic; and paired with its ghostly, reverb-drenched production—it makes for an experience as haunting as it is human.

But before we get too far, let’s look at how the Creeps succeed as a pop punk band. For me, the primary task of any catchy punk is to be, well, catchy—and this is where the Creeps build their foundation. The melodies across this album never cease being gorgeous. They stick to you like glue, and accordingly, they’re treated like the star of the show. There are some nice guitar flourishes throughout the album, but for the most part, they’re adhesive. This isn’t to diminish the instrumentals on Beneath the Pines, but rather to shine a light on their conceived unobtrusiveness. “Shimmer” opens with one such riff, and “In My Mind” features a catchy lead as well, but for the most part, they’re kept lean and better for it. They manage to balance being present without being overbearing, often scaling back to chugs to let the vocals breathe. They are the detailing that give the songs depth, but still communicate a common law: when the chorus comes in—you’re supposed to sing along.

The best problem an album can have is having too many highlights to list. “Bottom of Things” has some hard-hitting and relatable lyricism (“Eye contact—I practice everything. Except sleeping, I don’t do that much these days.”) packaged into a big, infectious chorus. It also features a somber, emotional bridge that builds to rapturous howls. “Bodies” is another excellent track, more aggressive than “Bottom of Things,” suitably propelled with the galloping strum of distorted power chords. The opening lyrics are almost a thesis statement: “These human bodies, such beautiful acts of betrayal.” It’s interesting and inherently relatable, a eulogy for our mortal vessels, doomed to flat tires and oil leaks—destined for a ditch. The chorus, for me, captures the inevitable, and how we humans fight to sublimate death into something we can idolize, the reclamation of suffering through art:

It’s not the tightest ship,

In fact there are holes,

You said, “you’re bleeding from the lip,”

I said, “it’s spilling from my soul.”

Attaching meaning to hurt is nothing new, but it succeeds holistically, in cabal with the melody and insistent rhythm, transcending metaphor to be screamed as a rallying cry.

In parallel to the album’s themes of nostalgia and memory, I can’t help but think about the records that shaped my taste and therefore my life. Do you know I remember where I was the first time I heard Repeater? Same for Fuel for the Hate Game, Searching for a Former Clarity, and The Empire Strikes First. All of those records are tied to sights and sounds, old futon beds and my first record player; my first laptop and my senior year of high school. These gave me the start I needed to digging up my insides. To pull a quote from “Fall:”

I fear we’re all just fated to these capsules of time

Like memories of pure bliss beneath these sky-tall pines

And either that’s all that’s left, or even those leave our minds

And then we all fall down,

And then we all fall

The Creeps paint a picture of a race against time—the same one we’re all running. I’ve been known to call art made for everyone to be art made for no one. These are books, movies, and songs that aspire to a sort of bland universality, that couch their stories and melodies in the most brash representatives of the human experience. They cover heartbreak, love, and worry with those exact words, like Mad Libs of the human condition. The Creeps dig deeper though, and in exploring themselves they end up with examinations of greater humanity—the failings of our body, the social contract, depression, and addiction. They do this through specificity, by joining a great tradition of punk rockers working through some shit. It’s a healthy reminder that even though we don’t have the same “sky-tall pines,” we do all have them—and they’re worth holding onto.

Beneath the Pines is at once heady and nostalgic, introspective and musical. It communicates experience skillfully, with slice-of-life imagery and universal angst. It inspires empathy, while also inspiring awe. This is a pop punk record unlike any I’ve heard before, and if this is where the Creeps landed after nearly two decades of activity, I think it speaks well of their trajectory. This is personal, specific music born from a unique vision—re-envisioning punk rock into something new, useful, and defiantly esoteric.

5/5



Album Review: Lagwagon – “Hang”

Ok, so Hang is four years old at the time of writing this but considering there was a nine year gap between this and Lagwangon’s last full length offering I think I can cut myself some slack. I started listening to these guys around the release of Hoss in 1996 and was a pretty avid fan through to Lets Talk About Feelings which came out in 1998. Those two releases (and Double Plaidinum which came between them) leaned more heavily on the melodic side of the melodic hardcore genre, with nods to their heavier, more metal infused first two albums. The band then went quiet for five years while members pursued other musical endeavors, singer Joey Cape’s new band (Bad Astronaut) taking an even poppier direction. With 2003’s Blaze, the band’s metal sound from their debut and sophomore releases (Duh 1992 and Trashed 1994) was more prevalent and the record failed to make much of an impression on me. In the intervening 15 years (fuuuuuuuck) Lets Talk About Feelings has been my go to record from Lagwagon. From that opening chugging riff on After You My Friend to the bittersweet melancholy on penultimate stormer May 16 the album is pretty much perfect all the way through.

Fast forward to 2018 and in preparation for the upcoming Menzingers / Lagwagon / Lawrence Arms show in London in August (not to mention Bad Cop Bad Cop and The Lillingtons) I’m filling in the blanks in my Lagwagon education. Resolve (2005) was written in the aftermath of the suicide of their friend and former drummer Derrick Plouride and lyrically is, understandably, influenced by that tragic event. Musically the album is a mix of melodic and heavier songs and it’s actually a really great addition to their catalogue which is quickly integrating itself into my current playlist.

Which brings me to their most recent, albeit now four year old, offering – Hang. It opens with Burden of Proof, a one-minute Joey Cape acoustic number which sees the first reference to the album’s title (“I see you hanging by your noose. Delivered, divine excuse”) of which there are several more throughout the album. As this subdued number fades out, second track Reign kicks in at breakneck speed, Cape’s vocals switching from mellow and melancholic to aggressive and angry and Lagwagon are back in style. There’s a really cool call back to a lyric in the opener (“It’s a sonnet. There’s no way to put a ribbon on it”) and the aforementioned “hanging man” so if you weren’t following the song titles you could assume the two openers were actually just one song. It’s an absolute belter and I’d love to see them open a set with these two songs back to back. I think the crowd would verily loose their shit! Made of Broken Parts starts with a super metal riff and chugs along nicely with a breakdown in the middle before further nods to the album title (“We can’t hang so we must hang. Can’t hang on so we disconnect”). Following song Cog in the Machine continues the more metallic bent and lyrical theme (machines, parts etc) and keeps the album flowing nicely. Poison in the Well is less overtly metal influenced, although does have a meandering guitar solo in the middle before returning to it’s previous fast pace. Obsolete Absolute starts with the sounds of typewriter before a rumbling bass line leads us into several minutes of an enjoyable rocking instrumental which is then joined by a spoken word narration of things which are becoming obsolete. Around two and half minutes in, the drum tempo increases and a pick slide delineates a shift in the song. Cape’s urgent vocals combine with fast tempo guitar work and it quickly turns into one of the stand out tracks on the album. We hear more about our friend “swinging…on the tree” and the spoken word narration returns to great effect, it really is an exceptional six minutes of music. Western Settlements starts with a relatively pedestrian but enjoyable chugging riff and beat before the drums and bass strip away to leave the guitar to accompany Joey Cape’s sombre vocal which comes in (“A hell of a thing. Hanging a man. Taking everything he has. And all he’ll ever have”). Then the rest of the band kick in again and we’ve got another belter on our hands. Burning Out in Style, opens with a bright vocal over a pulsing guitar and we get one of the most melodic tracks on the release. It’s a fucking corker too, exposing the mundanity and emptiness that lies beneath the shiny façade that some people portray themselves with. One More Song starts with a piano intro underneath a gentle vocal from Joey and is a poignant tribute to the much loved and sadly missed Tony Sly. It references a song Joey heard Tony working on the week before he died which becomes a metaphor for wishing he was still with us. It’s another slice of pure melodic perfection and a fitting tribute to the great man. Following song, Drag, is a reworking of one of Cape’s acoustic numbers, discussing his addiction to nicotine. It’s a little heavier than the previous two tracks without returning to the more metal sound from earlier in the album. You Know Me continues in the same musical vein, a mid tempo rocker which discusses how disconnected we are from each other despite the devices we now have that in theory could bring us closer together. Album closer In Your Wake is a bit of a blend of all the musical styles and themes from the album. It rocks along nicely then builds to a climax, only to slow down to a super poppy repeated refrain (“Inside your head”) over acoustic guitar and a slower drum beat which then itself builds, the full band kick in and we’re told “Your next to hang” over some breakneck speed classic ‘Wagon.

So there we have it, nine years in the making and four more before I actually listened to the damn thing and it’s pretty fucking special, I wish I’d pulled my finger out earlier. It has an urgency and freshness whilst still unmistakably being a Lagwagon album which should please diehard fans and win over new ones. Roll on August!

4/5 Stars



Album Review: The Penske File – “Salvation”

The Penske File don’t play folk punk, so much that they play punk for, well, folks.

You know, the riff-raff, people like you and me who work shitty jobs, earn what they can, and live their life under-the-radar. Blue collar, working class, salt-of-the-earth. Their new album Salvation is a refreshing reminder of what the genre can do with earnest earthiness. This is punk rock, electric and loud, made from a working class perspective that drops the cosplay and goes for the gut. There’s no posturing here, Salvation is authentic folk punk, whatever you want that to mean.

“Kamikaze Kids” opens the album with a catchy guitar line and an even more arresting opening lyric, “It’s nice to be here, and it’s cool to meet you, shaking off the dirt, that’s just something we do.” It underlines the resilience and pride inherent in their perspective while giving the kids something to shout along to. Some might take that as a throwaway compliment, but I think the song’s singability, as well as its accessibility, is actually a virtue destined to be taken for granted. It’s loud and proud and meant for the people, a piece of art composed to glue a group together with words that’ll feel good slipping from their lips. For me, that’s what a lot of this kind of music misses. The Penske File get that the roots of rootsy music is community.

And the songwriting is strong enough to cement a community. Sticky melodies, dramatic drum builds, and  tasty fretwork pop up all across Salvation. The Penske File are a talented band with excellent command over every stage of songwriting, from composition to arrangement to performance. “Lakeshore” shows some country influence, but it comes from an old well, one not often drank from. The big countrified harmonies evoke, but also transcend, Appalachian townships; hidden away from the modern world, not to be lionized, but real all the same. When the Penske File indulge in some of these more obvious folk affectations (the harmonica on “American Basements” deserves mention as well), they risk pushing themselves into a corner—or worse, an inevitable downward spiral that ends in a“Wagon Wheel” cover. Fortunately, the Penske File keep their music rooted in catchy punk rock, and the stylistic additions don’t feel like Salvation playing dress-up, but rather as a gap being bridged between two genres of commoner art.

Fans of the Penske File no doubt already know the band as formidable songwriters in a genre with an eternal hunger for songcraft. Salvation shines a spotlight on the common ground that is music, what we share between urban and rural. For the Penske File, rock ‘n roll is the new folk, and they treat punk rock as a springboard for communion, and from the path of communion, the Penske File bring salvation. 

 

4.5/5

 



Album Review: Spanish Love Songs – “Schmaltz”

When it comes to building a world, details matter. Whether the world exists in a movie, a book, or even a song. Details are what make us feel the heat of an ember or the exuberance of youth. Even in punk, lyrics are enriched by the tics and specific imagery of a time and place. It gives weight to a slice-of-life, enough so that by the time the last note fades away, we feel like what was just sung to us happened, that it is cemented in reality, as part of our world as it is the world of the song.

LA’s Spanish Love Songs fill their sad sack anthems with the tiniest details, and by the last song, Schmaltz feels as lived-in as an old sneaker, and might just be 2018’s first great album.

As far as punk rock goes, this is the sort that captures me immediately. I pride myself on liking a lot of different punk, the stuff that barks and snarls, sneers or moans. Hardcore, crust, pop punk, a little emo, a little post, but my favorites these days are the result of introspective and eloquent songwriters that can match poetic lyrics to big singalongs. Stuff like the Menzingers, Red City Radio, and now— Spanish Love Songs, a band that’ll likely draw comparisons to the former, but manages in the end to carve out an identity of their own with Schmaltz.

Spanish Love Songs’ music is personal, so personal it hurts. It reminds me of how I felt the first time I heard Against Me! That feeling of did they really just say that? There’s strength in that sort of abandon, and Spanish Love Songs is benching above their weight. Opening song, “Nuevo” is a quiet track driven by piano chords courtesy Meredith Van Woert, rich in top-notch imagery, sung in an affectatious Greg Barnett-esque croon by Dylan Slocum. Slocum sings, “And I can’t help but laugh at these edge kids I used to mosh with at church hardcore shows, getting blasted on Pabst and burning holes into the wall with their Parliaments.” You immediately have a sense of time and place, but in the end, Slocum doesn’t shy away from prying open old wounds, “Well fuck, I’m miserable, which means it’s me that hasn’t changed.” Simple and direct, no bullshit. Schmaltz is filled with these sorts of lines, ones we’ve said to ourselves in our darkest moments, and Spanish Love Songs fits them to a melody and forces us to sing along. It’s the unique sort of confrontation that feeling-forward punk thrives on, recognition and acceptance of us at our worst.

The music itself is great, with memorable and energetic fretwork. “Sequels, Remakes, and Adaptations” begins with a guitar line that explodes out of thin air, while the song also introduces a melody that becomes a motif throughout the album, a smart move that makes a record tangibly cohesive, beyond something more ephemeral like thematics. It also introduces some speed, which is always much appreciated in a subgenre often critiqued for its mid-tempo emotional jams.

“The Boy Considers His Haircut” is my clear favorite from the album, a song that takes minutiae and reveals it to be symptoms of a greater angst. It has great screamlong melodies throughout the song, without ever dipping into a strict verse-chorus structure. The aversion to, but not total rejection of, traditional song structure reveals another parallel between Spanish Love Songs and The Menzingers—the effect is a strong one though, making each song feel natural, like it’s growing off of itself in new and organic directions.

There’s too many great songs on Schmaltz to talk about individually, but the number of highlights could very well be the same as its tracklisting, as each new listen offers something new to appreciate. That’s the depth the songwriting brings to the album; there’s a lot to unpack and Spanish Love Songs craft their music to make sure you want to unpack it, even when it hurts, even when it’s just a mirror to our discontent.

5/5