Tag «MxPx»

Album Review: MXPX – “MXPX”

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

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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

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Album Review: MxPx – “Acoustic Collection”

MxPx has been a prominent player in the punk scene since the mid-nineties. In recent years, however, they have slowed down. Guitarist Tom Wisniewski and drummer Yuri Ruley have retired from touring full-time in order to be family men and take day jobs. They remain in the band to record and perform the occasional weekend show, but, when MxPx goes on a tour of any length, most of the band is unrecognizable.

This is common. Musicians leave their bands for a variety of reasons, but the arrival of babies and the need for a steady income are two of the bigger ones. Remaining members are left to pursue side projects to fill the time between sporadic appearances that keep the premium brand name relevant.

Frontman Mike Herrera must have seen this decrease in MxPx activity coming. Despite numerous side projects – The Cootees, Arthur, and currently Tumbledown – Herrera has increasingly been performing as a solo act. Soloing has gone well for him, and has included a stint on the Vans Warped Tour Acoustic Basement in 2014, as well as three digitally-released live albums. These performances include a mixture of MxPx and Tumbledown songs with the occasional cover.

In 2014, MxPx released Acoustic Collection, an album of twelve stripped down and, in some instances, transformed MxPx songs. This is not an acoustic album of their greatest hits – you won’t find “Chick Magnet” or “Responsibility” here – but included are fan favorites “Doing Time,” “Tomorrow’s Another Day,” “Secret Weapon” and “Punk Rawk Show.”

That said, this feels more like Mike Herrera’s first studio solo album, rather than a full-band effort. Tom Wisniewski is listed in the credits only as “additional vocals on Punk Rawk Show,” while Yuri Ruley shares that credit, and is also one of three listed under “Percussion,” – Bradley Miranda is listed for “Drum Set.” That the songs were all previously recorded as MxPx songs helps distinguish it from a Mike Herrera solo album.

Since 2009’s laudable Left Coast Punk EP, MxPx has been mostly DIY, recording in Herrera’s own Monkey Trench Studio, and releasing music on their own label, Rock City Recording Company. As producer, Herrera resists the temptation to overdub out-of-place extra instruments, as so many punk rockers like to do with their solo albums. There are no violins, cellos, flutes, accordions, or harmonicas here. Keys are listed for one track, but they are barely noticeable in “Buildings Tumble.” Even the auxiliary percussion is used sparingly; the shakers in “Doing Time” are audible without being distracting. And while Herrera went overboard harmonizing with himself on Plans Within Plans, the band’s last full-length album, here he lets the melodies speak for themselves, with vocal harmonies limited to three tunes performed by “Agent M” Emily Whitehurst (formerly of Tsunami Bomb), who had previously lent her voice to the band’s On The Cover II.

Surprises include new and additional lyrics on the final refrain of “Doing Time,” as well as the transformation of “Drowning” from possibly the fastest song on 2007’s Secret Weapon to the slowest here, and, at the conclusion, the most laid back rendition one could imagine of “Punk Rawk Show,” the band’s long-time anthem.

This album is particularly refreshing after the band’s only other official acoustic release, the mediocre AC/EP. And, because this is a full-length, it serves like a retrospective of MxPx’s career, including songs from their most recent album and spanning all the way back to 1995’s Teenage Politics.

Acoustic Collection really showcases the strength of Mike Herrera’s song-writing ability. While fans will take the full band any day of the week, they will also delight in the latest effort from MxPx, still kicking since 1992.

4/5 Stars – Listen below. (more…)

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