Wednesday, February 29, 2012

OK - don't freak out, but Casey left the band. - FAKE PROBLEMS

OK - don't freak out, but Casey left the band. - FAKE PROBLEMS:

Currently freaking out. I loved the chemistry between all four of them and Casey had a wonderful stage presence. I'm glad it was on friendly terms though. I've still got high hopes for the next album.

OFF! will release its first (still really short) full-length in May | Music | Newswire | The A.V. Club

OFF! will release its first (still really short) full-length in May | Music | Newswire | The A.V. Club:

There are no words to describe how much I'm looking forward to this album. I know that lately I've been really digging the bands that put a new spin on the punk genre, but I love OFF! because they know how to channel their youth and produce hardcore in a way that so few bands can these days.

fun. - Some Nights

fun.'s debut, Aim and Ignite, embodied everything that pop music needed to become. It had the grand feeling of a Queen album, but blended with the instrumentation of the first Jellyfish album, and topped with the influence of  a number of modern indie pop bands, including, (as one would expect) lead singer Nate Ruess' previous band, the Format. Aim and Ignite was anything but a simple record, each song was dense and stuffed completely with various sounds no matter how briefly it occurred. It was a busy record, but it worked really well and it became the epitome of what pop music should be to anyone who gave it a listen.

Some Nights, the sophomore album by fun., is no simple record either. In many ways, it takes what Aim and Ignite did and multiplies it tenfold. By all means, Some Nights should be the greatest pop album since Thriller, but unfortunately it gets lost somewhere in its own ambition and the band essentially winds up back at square one. Some Nights had a lot of expectations to meet after the hype of Aim and Ignite, and ultimately it fails to deliver to those who had their hopes high for Aim and Ignite Part 2. Fortunately, just because Some Nights does not meet the expectations it had, it doesn't not mean that it is a particularly bad album. Just the opposite, as Some Nights is still a solid album- it is just a departure from the usual style that not only fun. was known for, but also the style that the Format was so well known for.

The album starts off with a 1-2 punch of the titular Some Nights (Intro) and Some Nights. These tracks accomplish exactly what everyone thought the album was going to be: layers of background music, from a piano to a string section, and even an opera singer, all of which one would not expect from a three piece. It's a very promising start- so promising that it's easy to forgive the auto-tuned vocals at the end of the second track: it's actually kind of cute sounding in the context of this song. The intro to We Are Young sounds like another Aim and Ignite track, before launching into the massive-sounding single that it actually is. The single is billed as featuring a guest spot from the talented Janelle Monae, which is a bit misleading as she never really gets in the spotlight: as soon as the listener realizes she's singing, her segment is over.

Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy has been said to have played a major influence on the recording of Some Nights and it's very evident, especially on the latter half of the album. While fun. has been no stranger to grandiose songs, it's the little things like the hip-hop drum loop in All Alone or the bounciness of One Foot take it to new levels, almost mimicking just how big Mr. West's songs will sound sometimes. The heavily electronic sounding and auto-tuned It Gets Better and Stars are bound to cause some heated YouTube comment debates, while other songs, such as Why Am I the One? and All Alright take on an almost-gospel feel to them in their production.

It is this heavy Kanye West influence that makes Some Nights both a failure and a success. On the plus side, it shows that many of these studio tricks can, and will, transcend genres, closing the gap between hip-hop and indie pop ever so slightly. On the other hand, the album disappoints because it relies too heavily on following a format that has already proven to be commercially successful. In the past the band seemingly avoided making music that would fit into a certain mold, but Some Nights fits into a commercial mold all too well without taking as many weird risks as one might expect. Some Nights is a good album overall, but it does come off as a bit of a letdown when looked at from that perspective.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Menzingers - On the Impossible Past

"Anthemic" is a word that gets thrown around a lot when describing melodic punk bands, so much to the point where it is tough to discern whether the word is being used sincerely or not. Rest assured, it is definitely a word that accurately describes the new Menzingers album, On the Impossible Past. Filled with tons of explosive choruses that are easy to sing along with, the band's Epitaph Records debut sticks out like a beacon of hope in a time when "dubstepcore" bands have become a thing.

On the Impossible Past takes what made Chamberlain Waits so successful and improves on that sound, making it a logical follow up album to what was already a solid effort. While the sonic leap isn't drastic, the Menzingers have found a way to work their formula without re-recording the same album over again like so many punk bands will do. Like their peers in the Gaslight Anthem, Cheap Girls, and the Sidekicks, the Menzingers have stumbled into a realm of modern day punk rock for the jaded working class, with music that is just as loud as it is reserved, and lyrics that reflect on the hardships of modern life living and romanticizing a simpler time.

As with many songs on Chamberlain Waits, the band's lyrics on this album can be oddly specific at times, citing events pertaining only to the band members themselves. This is far from a bad thing, and it's definitely one of the  finer points of the band's developing style; eschewing a standard rhyme scheme in favor of describing how things really went down. Sure to be new fan-favorites Mexican Guitars and Casey stand out as some of the more prominent examples of this, although the band isn't one to shy away from a big, meaty chorus like those found on lead singles The Obituaries and Gates.

When the Menzingers recorded their cover of the Clash's Straight to Hell on their debut album, A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology, it was almost like a sign of things to come. Just as the Clash pushed their sound forward by adopting new sounds and genres of all kinds, the Menzingers have not been afraid to try new things with their music-even if it means allowing their punk roots to take a backseat while trying different sounds.

For many, the Clash was dubbed "the only band that matters." With any luck, the Menzingers will one day be recognized as "the only other band that matters."

Cheap Girls - Giant Orange

This review has also been published on DyingScene:

Much like the new albums by the Sidekicks and the Menzingers, the newest Cheap Girls album is a call-back to the college rock and power pop bands of the 80's and early 90's. The biggest difference between Cheap Girls and the other two bands, however, is that this is the approach that the band has always taken, rather than starting as a gruff punk band before gradually mellowing out. If anything, Cheap Girls have become more aggressive, sonically, over the course of their three albums and various splits and singles, and Giant Orange is a testament to just that.

One can make jokes that it was signing to Rise Records that encouraged the band to beef up their sound (don't worry, that's not why), but it's more likely that getting to work with Tom Gabel (of Against Me!) that influenced the louder production values, making the album come off with a similar sound to the last few Against Me! releases, particularly White Crosses and the Russian Spies / Occult Enemies single. The songs are all clear as day, and Gabel's production allows for Cheap Girls to finally explore their own sound. Both lyrically and structurally, the band's songs haven't changed a whole lot since their debut, but they've been together long enough that they are now playing comfortably with each other and their musicianship has never sounded more together. This will hopefully help them to avoid accusations of being a "Gaslight Anthem" type band who are trying to relive a past decade they weren't alive to witness.

Cheap Girls have always had a very strong Smoking Popes influence on their sound, and Giant Orange is no exception as vocalist Ian Graham still croons on each of the album's ten tracks. Out of all three of the band's albums, Giant Orange showcases how far Graham has come as a singer, as he has never sounded as confident on a studio recording as he does now. The whole album provides evidence of this, but no song shows off his new confidence as much as Pacer does. He's still singing about the hardships in his life, but his voice shines throughout the five minute duration and it's hard to believe that it's the same quiet singer heard on Find Me a Drink Home only four years ago. Even the sole acoustic number, Cored to Empty, which is a lyrical downer ("When you first found me, I was dirty, broken cored to empty/I'm not much better now"), has Ian Graham singing with much more confidence than he did when he recorded Her and Cigarettes all those years ago. One can only hope that the band also continues to write songs that utilize their backing vocals, as they complement Graham's lead work nicely.

All-in-all, Giant Orange is arguably Cheap Girls' best work. Whereas their contemporaries in the Sidekicks and the Menzingers have created great albums by constantly shifting genres and playing with new sounds, Cheap Girls have stuck to just a single sound, but perfecting it over time and getting better at it with each new release. They might not have what it takes to top an album like Watch the Throne, but Cheap Girls most definitely has what it takes to become huge in the college radio circles.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Sidekicks - Awkward Breeds

This review has also been published on DyingScene

There's something to be said about a band that once played gruff-sounding punk in the vein of Hot Water Music or Latterman but now warmly embraces the eccentricities of 90's alternative and pop music. Naturally one would assume that the "something to be said" would be a negative thing, and why not? "A punk band stops playing punk and plays pop music? What sellouts they must be!" This is not the case with the Sidekicks, however. Perhaps it is the 90's-nostalgia that the entire Internet appears to be suffering, or perhaps it is that the Sidekicks are just really good, but the band has managed to create what just might be their greatest album to date.

2009's Weight of Air was already a huge step into a new direction from the band's orgcore-soaked debut, So Long, Soggy Dog. Rather than try to best themselves at the country-flavor that filled many tunes from their sophomore effort, the Sidekicks have once again reinvented themselves on Awkward Breeds, this time as a power pop band taking cues from The Pixies, Weezer, and even a little bit from the Gin Blossoms. This new style works immediately. Whereas Weight of Air began with an off-key wail, Awkward Breeds starts with a child's voice over noisy feedback before launching into the incredibly catchy DMT. It's kind of like Pinkerton, in that aspect, if Pinkerton's lead track, Tired of Sex, sounded less dirty.

The rest of the album follows the groundwork laid down by DMT. Intricate and clean guitar work is sprinkled throughout the songs, at times with a little more twang than other times. Lead singer, Steve Ciolek's falsetto carries songs with an almost child-like innocence, while his lyrics often reflect that very same innocence, albeit through the eyes of someone who has grown up still longing for that childish-state.

The album's biggest highlight comes more than halfway through the album, with The Whale and Jonah: a five and a half minute song that likens a couple's relationship to that of the relationship between (surprise, surprise) Jonah and the whale that he takes cover inside. Although lyrically the song has clear Biblical allusions, musically this track could have been an unreleased Weezer tune that the band was given permission to make up their own lyrics for. The entire instrumental segment of the song, including the solo, sounds like it could've been stripped directly from the recording sessions of the Blue Album. The penultimate track, Baby, Baby, sounds like another early era Weezer song, with Ciolek's vocals even recalling River Cuomo's Pinkerton whine ever-so-slightly during the verses.

Weezer comparisons aside, the band adds to their appeal by being able to seamlessly move from some of the aforementioned hard-hitting rock songs to their softer, made-for-lighters (cell phones?) tunes. The band doesn't slow down often on Awkward Breeds, but when they do they nail it. 1940's Fighter Jet is a perfect anthem for any youth growing up in these unsure times, while Looker puts a spin on the acoustic love song by writing it from the perspective of a man who acknowledges our patriarchal society and feels guilty about the way that love is portrayed.

To name all of the album's highlights would be to name almost every single track on the album and it is best left to simply acknowledge that the Sidekicks have created another fantastic album. By taking their cues from some of the most influential bands of their past and combining it with their own style, the Sidekicks have produced one of the strongest albums in the modern power pop genre. The only thing that can really be said is that if there is any justice in this world, in the late 2020s bands will look back on Awkward Breeds as fondly as the Sidekicks look back on Pinkerton and New Miserable Experience.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mikey Erg - Fucifier

Despite playing for a million and one bands and, presumably, having a life outside of music, Mikey Erg still found time in his schedule to record a new EP titled Fucifier.

To be fair, the EP is an incredibly short and fast thrash punk EP, much like the work that the Ergs! would sometimes record (such as their Thrash Compactor EP or even the Adult Swim Theme) and with a run time of three and a half minutes it probably didn't take a very long time to record.

Mikey Erg recorded the entire thing himself and if this Punknews article is to be believed, he also wrote the songs while in the studio rather than before. He tears through each track with a ferocity that he only hinted at during his time with the love-struck Ergs, screaming all the words that it's hard to even know what he's saying.

Far from his best recorded work, Fucifier, if nothing else, shows off the man's incredible diversity and ability to play very thrashy sounding punk in stark contrast to the pop punk and indie that he usually plays.

Things to note:
-Track four is a cover of F.Y.P's Dum Cos I Said So and it's pretty awesome and even faster and shorter than the original.
-Perhaps it's Mikey's time with Star Fucking Hipsters that inspired him to record something a bit heavier?
-The entire thing is streaming on bandcamp. If you really want to get an idea of his musical diversity, listen to the other songs he also has up. It's funny to hear Chicago Pussy back-to-back with his cover of Jonathan Richman's I'm a Little Dinosaur and realize that they were recorded only months apart.

Review in Haiku - Direct Hit! / Hold Tight! Split

Trying something new, just for kicks. Direct Hit! and Hold Tight! recently released a digital split album that features both bands playing music that's heavier than what they normally play. The physical version (on 12" vinyl) comes out in March.

Direct Hit! side                       Hold Tight! side
Heavy, heavy stuff.                    Fast and melodic
Almost metal but not quite.            Less Lifetime, more J. Shevchuk.
Stars guest vocalist.                  Less time, more feedback.

Not usual fare.                        Raw singing, gang vox
Some will love, some will hate it      Big bass, chugged guitars and drums.
Fuck you. Get pumped. (Bitch).         Sometimes less is more. 

Things to note:
-As mentioned on Direct Hit!'s bandcamp page: they got their friend Kyle Booth (of the band Whiskeypig) to sing on their half of this split.
-As their bandcamp also states, these songs were originally written for a different project when the members didn't think Direct Hit! was going to last. They might as well form an alter-ego band to perform these songs.
-It seems as of Hold Tight! has an alter-ego band of their own called Tight Hold.
-The cover for this split is highly reminiscent of Black Flag's Damaged. Given that this split features some of the heaviest work by both bands, this is can't be a coincidence.
-Yes, that is a Buffy the Vampire Slayer reference that I made.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Less Than Jake / Samiam / Flatfoot 56 - Live at the Brooklyn Bowl

Seminal 90's 3rd wave ska band Less Than Jake is currently touring in celebration of 20 years together as a band. That's impressive, especially considering that the genre's movement all but ceased to exist roughly a decade ago. On February 21st, for the second time within a week, Less Than Jake stopped at the Brooklyn Bowl in Brooklyn, NY with openers Samiam and Flatfoot 56.

It's important to note: if there is a two hour wait between when a venue opens its doors for a show and when the show actually begins, don't show up at the hour in between the two times. That is, unless the venue doubles as a bowling alley, as the Brooklyn Bowl so conveniently does, and you have some extra cash to spend. Otherwise you'll be stuck staring aimlessly at the merch table, venue employees, and other early arrivals- all while contemplating if it is too early to consider dropping $8 for a drink (and if you have to question it, then chances are that it is definitely too early).

Prices aside, Brooklyn Bowl is a nice and atmospheric venue. It comfortably fits 16 lanes, a stage, a bar, a small dining area, and a waiting room without any of the locations interfering with each other. It shouldn't be a wonder why Less Than Jake elected to play at the Brooklyn Bowl during both of their NYC dates.

The first band, Celtic punkers Flatfoot 56, received a very typical opening band reception: lots of heads bobbing up and down with the music, signaling that no one actually knew any of the words, but they would sing along if they did know them. Despite hailing from the windy city, Flatfoot 56's brand of punk rock has a lot more in common with New Jersey acts such as the Bouncing Souls or even The Gaslight Anthem's first album, but you know, with a mandolin and bagpipes because they're a Celtic punk band. Fast tempos, easy-to-learn choruses, and plenty of "whoas" were sprinkled throughout the band's set before launching into a cover of Screeching Weasel's Cool Kids, proving that this band of brothers (literally) comes from Chicago and not, as their music might suggest, New Brunswick.

Samiam took to the stage after a twenty minute wait and, for whatever reason, the crowd had almost no reaction to them. Perhaps it was because their set heavily focused on songs from Astray and not enough on their older material, or perhaps it was just because the crowd wasn't all that familiar with Samiam, but no one was really feeling it. This is sad to say, because the band performed fantastically. Charlie Walker is an incredible drummer, throwing in a million fills that aren't on the band's studio recordings; while guitarists Sergie Loobkoff and Sean Kennerly didn't miss a note, even with their wild playing styles, and bassist Billy Bouchard not only laid down a steady bass but also provided some solid vocal harmonies. Singer, Jason Beebout, has always had a consistently strong voice, comparable to Dave Grohl even, and he carries so much power that he could probably front a big-name arena rock band with ease.

Yet, even with a solid performance from the band, crowd reaction was limited to the fifteen people in the room singing along. The one downside to the band's set was their (lack of) stage banter. Very rarely was the audience treated to a funny anecdote or brief speech about how the next song was from their new album that could be picked up at the front, and more often the band would take a few seconds for Beebout to take another swig of beer before firing into another number. Later in the show, Chris from Less Than Jake would call them out on not playing any old material (other than Capsized) and indirectly implied that was the cause for a mostly dull (heh) audience, although after Samiam left the stage most show attendees were admitting out loud that they had "never heard of that band before" and asked "why weren't they the first band?"

80 West
She Found You
September Holiday
Mud Hill
El Dorado
Full On

If you've ever seen Less Than Jake live before, you probably know how their shows go by now. And if you haven't, it's a little something like this: A crowd gathers up in front of the stage while the techs are setting up, and when the band comes on stage an even bigger crowd rushes forward while one guy (usually about seven years older than the rest of the crowd) pushes people out of the way to open up a circle pit. And that's exactly how it went down. Even after 20 years of playing together, Less Than Jake still has the energy of bands half their age and twice as much passion. From Gainesville Rock City to Johnny Quest Thinks We're Sellouts to Plastic Cup Politics, the band played highlights from almost their entire career, even including a tune from 2006's poorly received In With the Out Crowd but oddly omitting any material from 2008's "return-to-form" GNV FLA. In usual Less Than Jake style, in between songs they would not only banter with each other, but they would also include the audience in on the conversation, whether they wanted to be included or not.

Very early in the show (immediately after the second song, All My Best Friends Are Metalheads), guitarist/singer Chris Demakes, caught sight of an older couple in the crowd and invited them up on stage, along with their 20-something year old son, who had brought them along. After making sure that the father looked even more uncomfortable than he looked already by making a joke about his wife, the band invited the lucky son to sing Help Save the Youth of America from Exploding with them, before turning to their game show-esque routine that they are known so well for as of late. This tour's edition of the game involved a cash cube, a thirty second song, and the opportunity to win one of every one of the band's albums. After watching the male contestant fail miserably and a female contestant being given an advantage, the band fired into the old fan favorites, Liquor Store and The Ghosts of Me and You before leaving the stage and ending the night on a high note.

Just kidding, the band came back out and did a three song encore. Jen Doesn't Like Me Anymore, How's My Driving, Doug Hastings?, and Look What Happened before leaving the stage (again) and ending the night on an even higher note.

Ska might have just been a fad for most bands in the mid-to-late 90's, but as Less Than Jake proves with their live show, it can still be a real treat for those who have remained faithful to the genre.

Gainesville Rock City
All My Best Friends Are Metalheads
9th at Pine
The New Auld Lang Syne
A Still Life Franchise
Johnny Quest Thinks We're Sellouts
Help Save the Youth of America from Exploding
The Science of Selling Yourself Short
Goodbye, Mr. Personality
Plastic Cup Politics
Malt Liquor Tastes Better When You've Got Problems
SpongeBob SquarePants Theme
Liquor Store
The Ghosts of Me and You

Jen Doesn't Like Me Anymore
How's My Driving, Doug Hastings?
Look What Happened

This review has been published on DyingScene:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Five Really Good Bands With Only One Release Ever

Semi-sequel to the last list. I meant to write this sooner. Oops.

Every band on this list has just a single official release to their name. Maybe they recorded some demos to prep for a second release, but for whatever reason it got dropped and never came to be. Perhaps those demos are now officially (or unofficially) available, but the fact remains that I picked these bands based on only having one EP or Single with their name on it. I also cheat the rules super hard for one entry.

05. Ergquist.
Ergquist is what happens when Mikey Erg (The Ergs!/Psyched to Die/House Boat/Star Fucking Hipsters/The Slow Death/The Dopamines/etc) joins forces with Marisa Bergquist (The Besties). It's in the vein of the cutesy indie pop punk that Dirtnap and Woah-Oh bands will sometimes produce. Keyboards, a very clean electric guitar, and incredibly catchy hooks dominate this four song EP, inaccurately titled 42,069 Seconds with... ERGQUIST (the run time is just under 700 seconds). Given that Mikey Erg is only involved with a million other bands, I'm not sure if or when Ergquist will ever record a follow up to this fantastic EP.

Fun Fact: Song Against Ian Raymond, might be familiar to Pink Couch fans, but also features lyrics that are direct quotes from High Fidelity. If this doesn't sound like a pop punk audiophile's wet dream, I'm not sure what does.

04. Daredevils
Remember in the 90's when Brett Gurewitz left Bad Religion to manage Epitaph Records? I don't because I was only 6 at the time, but I've read plenty about it to know the basic details. During his time away from Bad Religion, he teamed up with Gore Verbinski (yes, the very same guy who directed Pirates of the Caribbean) and Josh Freese (the only person to play drums with more bands than Mikey Erg) and recorded a two-song single titled Hate You. The general structure of the songs follows the same flow as Gurewitz's melodic writing style in Bad Religion, particularly Infected and Stranger Than Fiction, although the lead guitar on the title track is slightly more psychedelic. He's no Greg Graffin, but Gurewitz definitely has a strong enough voice to have carried this band further if he had wished to, but he disbanded the group soon after to focus on Epitaph full time. However, with this single we get some of the best Bad Religion songs from the 90's that never happened.

Fun Fact: Hate You is allegedly written about Jay Bentley, Bad Religion's bassist, who reportedly made claims that Gurewitz left the band for money. If there was any bad blood between them, it's gone now as evidenced by Mr. Brett's return to Bad Religion in 2001.

03. Bandits of the Acoustic Revolution
Back in 2001, ska kids found a savior to help revive their scene. Tomas Kalnoky, the man behind Catch-22's debut, Keasbey Nights, was making music again. His new project, Bandits of the Acoustic Revolution, was a 15+ person collective that played ska, but also played acoustic instruments. This was a band to get excited about and the EP was evidence that Keasbey Nights wasn't just a fluke and that the man was actually really good at writing ska music. And people did get excited. But then the band took a backseat to Streetlight Manifesto, which was a-okay because Streetlight Manifesto is also really good. Except then BOTAR also took a backseat to Tomas' perfectionism and Streetlight's constant touring with Reel Big Fish. The project has also recently taken a backseat to a solo acoustic album that Tomas Kalnoky put out. They say that they're recording new material (BOTAR is supposed to get two discs in the 99 Songs of Revoluion project), but it's been a little over 10 years at this point and still nothing. I'm hoping that by 2016 I will be able to take this band off this list.

Fun Fact: The original versions of Here's to Life and They Provide the Paint for the Picture-Perfect Masterpiece That You Will Paint on the Insides of Your Eyelids are present on the tracklist, as is the first re-recording of Dear Sergio. All three songs have since been re-recorded by Streetlight Manifesto at one point or another.

02. Keith Morris-era Black Flag
I fully expect insults to be hurled at me for this one, but hear me out: Black Flag was around for a decade but their first two singers only lasted one release each (Dez got two: the Six Pack EP and the Louie Louie single). So while the band continued to release material well after Keith Morris left the band, the fact remains that the line up featuring Morris on vocals only has one official release to their name, hence its inclusion. Nervous Breakdown is quite possibly the greatest hardcore EP ever: it's full of heavy riffs, roughly mixed tracks, pissed off lyrics, and it only runs for 5 minutes. It might lack the darkness of Damaged, but Nervous Breakdown makes up for what it lacks by encapsulating the bridge between punk and hardcore.

Fun Fact: Demos from the Nervous Breakdown recording sessions were included on the Everything Went Black compilation. It's one of the only places you can hear Keith Morris singing songs from Damaged.

01. Isocracy
If Black Flag's Nervous Breakdown marks the best of the beginnings of 80's hardcore, then Isocracy's Bedtime for Democracy is the highlight of the Gilman scene in Berkeley, CA that can't be overlooked. Originally considering the name Operation Ivy (later taken by another influential Berkeley punk band), Isocracy combined furious speed with catchy melodies and a sense of humor into their sole EP. The band had a few tracks released on various compilations, but Bedtime for Isocracy (an obvious nod to the Dead Kennedys' Bedtime for Democracy, and if that's not clear enough the cover art also features a face of Jello Biafra in bed with the band members of Isocracy) remains to be the only official release from the group.

Fun Fact: Following the demise of Isocracy, drummer John Kiffmeyer (aka Al Sobronte) joined the band Sweet Children, which later adopted the name Green Day. The other members of Isocracy went on to form the equally great, but vastly underrated, Samiam.

I'm sure there are a million bands that I overlooked while compiling these five, so if you think there are any glaring omissions, let me know! I am extremely aware that I lean toward the worlds of alternative and punk rock. Or do you just want to fight me about including Black Flag? Just leave your name, phone number, and please specify if we'll be meeting by the slide or the monkey bars in the comments.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Five Favorite One-Album Bands

A few months ago I was working as a part-time security guard at a shopping center in Queens, NY. I mentioned this briefly when I made my top 5 favorite songs that were on the work place playlist. While I was working there, I would do a whole lot of nothing and I'd spend most of my time standing at the front door and thinking up ways to make it closing time a whole lot sooner. One of my favorite ways to pass the time was to come up with top 5 lists, with the assumption that I would later create a blog entry about it and expand upon what I had written down on the paper towels that I had with me. With the exception of the aforementioned work place playlist, I never did any such thing. I mention this as an introduction to my five favorite one-album bands because I recently found that piece of paper towel that I had written on and I was reminded of all the lists I hadn't made.

As one can probably guess from the title of this list, I have compiled five bands that I enjoy based on the number of albums that they have released (just one). I had a couple of guidelines while picking them, first and foremost I actually have to like the album in question. It would've been too easy to just appeal to the masses and tell everyone that the Germs' GI is at the number one spot when, in reality, I much prefer the Lexicon Devil EP. (I still like GI, but I kind of get bored before the album is through). Speaking of EPs, pretty much every band on this list has also released an EP or single, or even made a comp appearance at one point, but has never recorded enough material to release as a second album (unless you count compiling a bunch of outtakes and live recordings, which I don't). It took a good long internal debate about whether or not a band would make the cut if they had any EPs, but I decided that I would turn my original list into two separate lists: one full of artists that have released one album (the list you're about to read), and a second list of artists that, for whatever reason, only have a single release to their name (which you'll see tomorrow most likely).

You'll also notice that 4 out of the 5 entries are side projects. Coincidence? Hardly. On with the bands!

05. Blackpool Lights
Blackpool Lights is a project that Jim Suptic started up when he wrote a bunch of songs that he didn't feel really fit with the Get Up Kids. When the Get Up Kids called it splits-ville, he made the band his priority. You know the song Ten Minutes off of Something to Write Home About that Suptic sang lead on? The Blackpool Lights album, This Town's Disaster, is an extension of that sound (I'm sure their self-titled EP is also an extension of that sound, but I have not had the pleasure of hearing it yet). While the Get Up Kids were (and still are) ever-evolving with their sound, Blackpool Lights takes it a step back to the earlier days of the band when they were still wearing their Sunny Day Real Estate and Superchunk influences on their sleeves. While the album is a great callback to 90's indie rock, Blackpool Lights quietly disappeared as the Get Up Kids returned. I probably would've ranked the band higher, but a little over a year ago they reformed and released the Okie Baroque EP through bandcamp. I wouldn't be surprised if the band records another album while the Get Up Kids take a break from touring. If they do, I'll have to revise this list.

04. +44
I have no trouble admitting it: I was one of the many who found the blink-182 hiatus to be devastating. Not life-shattering or anything, but it was sad to hear that these three guys, who always looked like they were having fun being goofs, had a falling out. In 2003, their "final" album got me through a lot of my roughest unbalanced hormonal phases, so it was sad to me to know that they wouldn't be making any new music together in the near future.

Enter the post-blink-182 projects. I was excited for Angels & Airwaves at first, but it just never really clicked with me. I think it's kind of cool that Tom was willing to do something far-removed from what he's known for, it's just not music that I would really listen to ever. +44, on the other hand, was a much better transition band for me. Despite being announced as an electronic project at first, +44 wound up being more of a natural progression from blink-182 (I'm sure somewhere down the line that Angels & Airwaves is also there, but several steps down and not the immediate next one like +44). When Mark and Travis got together and recorded When Your Heart Stops Beating, they weren't trying to change the world: they were just trying to create some fun music together. What I really liked most about it is that we got an album full of Mark songs. His presence was lacking a bit on the previous blink-182 album (and for that matter, there's a lack of him singing on Neighborhoods, too), and When Your Heart Stops Beating more than makes up for that.

03. Operation Ivy
Uh oh. I'm bending the rules a little bit. Technically these guys only have one album (Energy) which was then compiled with their first EP and two comp tracks into one large discography (Operation Ivy, often erroneously referred to as Energy), but they've still got enough leftover material that can make up (and has made up) entire bootlegs. These guys are why I decided not to count the bootleg albums for this list. Therefore, Operation Ivy only has one proper album under their name (again, Energy), although it has been re-released under another name since its original pressing.

What's there to say about Operation Ivy that hasn't been said? I feel like there was a brief period last decade where it became uncool in some punk circles to cite them as an influence or as your favorite band. Now that Jesse Michaels is back, it's almost like all the Operation Ivy fans have come back out. Or maybe it's just that I don't pay close enough attention to things. Either way, Operation Ivy is still one of the best ska-punk bands out there even if they have been defunct for over 20 years now and they still sound pretty fresh to this very day (except for maybe Freeze Up, where the lyrics explicitly state that "it's 1989"). No slow cuts or pauses on this album, each track is pure (*ahem*) energy.

02. The Draft
The Draft is what you get when a band calls it a day because one key member wants to take a break from touring but the other three don't want to take a break. So instead of just replacing the guy and continuing on as the same band (and thus running the risk of tarnishing the band's established name), they find a replacement but also come up with a new name, writing and recording music as a completely different band.

I'm a latter-day Hot Water Music fan, so I often find that it's Chris Wollard's songs that I enjoy more. So naturally I'm drawn to an album full of songs performed by him. The music itself is also very similar to the later Hot Water Music albums, with more accessible song structures and chord progressions. With Chuck Ragan always going on the Revival Tour, I wish that the Draft would get back together and record a proper follow up instead of the few scattered singles that they have. At the same time though, there's supposed to be a new Hot Water Music album coming soon and maybe that will be enough to fill the void.

01. Box Car Racer
Yep, another blink-182 project. At this point, I'm sure everyone knows how Box Car Racer started because Tom DeLonge wrote a bunch of songs that were more in the vein of late 80's post-hardcore and early 90's emo (boy, it's funny how those terms have changed over the years) as opposed to the usual blink-182 style, so he set out to record them under a new name. I've discussed how, at the time I discovered this album, I had never heard anything like it before, so I won't go into details about that, but this album was kind of a game changer for me. When blink-182 announced their hiatus, I was hoping that Tom would reform Box Car Racer even if it did mean finding an actual drummer instead of just asking the drummer from his other band. Thinking back on it now though, I'm happy that Box Car Racer was left alone. I hardly think that We Don't Need to Whisper would have gotten a kind reaction if Tom has released it under the BCR moniker and in turn that negative backlash would have turned BCR into just another band with a solid debut that just couldn't follow it up. I, for one, am glad that did not happen. The Box Car Racer album is special to me, and never recording another album helps keep Box Car Racer to be a special, one-time only deal.

There are my five, but I'm sure there are only a million bands that I overlooked. What or who are some of your favorite bands or artists with only one album to their name?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Either/Or Sucks: A Tribute to Descendents

I've been sitting on this one for a few weeks now. I'm lazy sometimes.

Either/Or Sucks: A Tribute to Descendents is, as one might expect, a tribute album to the (subjectively) greatest band ever. I will admit upfront: I'm not all that familiar with Either/Or Records, but I assume that since they're the ones who put out this tribute that at least a few of the bands on the album represent the Either/Or roster. If this is true (I'm a terrible journalist, I'm sure a quick Google search would answer that for me), then I can safely say that Either/Or has a very nice and diverse sound going on, ranging from pop punk to hardcore to ska (okay, so I know that the sole ska band, We Are the Union, are on Paper + Plastick, and their cover appeared on their most recent EP, so maybe Either/Or doesn't have any ska bands and I'm too busy being an awful journalist to find out). Either (heh) way, the line up on this disc is a perfect representation of the many types of bands that the Descendents have influenced and thus, it is a perfect way to pay homage* (double heh) to the band.

*I'm aware that there is a Descendents tribute album titled Homage!

In terms of instrumentation, a good portion of the songs sound pretty similar to the originals. This isn't a bad thing really, as it helps to create a familiar atmosphere for listeners who are fans of the Descendents but new to the bands present on the "disc" (yeah, yeah... so it's a free download on bandcamp and I don't have this on a disc, just bear with me). The vocals, for the most part, are an entirely different story. I think you can tell a lot about a band through their vocalists and, like I hinted at before, Either/Or Sucks compiles a decent variety of bands here. Songs like I'm the One and This Place Sucks (covered by The Tired and True and Natural Disasters respectfully) manage to sound even more like skate punk than the originals with all the gang vocals, while Weak Teeth's frantic approach to M-16 and Fisherkings's rendition of Hope are still quasi-hardcore songs, but with an entirely different vocal approach to screaming the lyrics. Think modern bands doing 90's screamo, like La Dispute almost (I'm not an expert on this genre, so comparisons for me to come up with are far and few in between).

Some bands hit it a little too close to home. I love Nightmares for a Week and their cover of Silly Girl might as well have just come from that remastered version of I Don't Want to Grow Up that the world is still waiting for. After the Fall's version of Kabuki Girl is so tight that they might have employed Bill Stevenson to produce it. These aren't bad songs at all, mind you, I'm just noting how similar to the originals they sound.

Perhaps the most interesting cover on the tribute is in the dead center of the track list. Hospital Garden tackles I'm Not a Punk, slowing down the tempo and, from what my untrained ears can tell, distorting the hell out of the bass. And this is how you do a goddamn cover! People like to bitch and complain when one of their favorite songs gets covered in a style that is completely unlike the original, but I applaud Hospital Garden for turning the song into something that's their own even though it's not really. Whereas the other songs might have thrown in or taken out a fill or two before the chorus, these guys really take the song into a new direction, which is what I think more tribute albums need to do. Of course not everyone will like it, but at least it's not just a sloppily thrown together by-the-numbers cover, and I think that really counts for something.

My only real gripe with this tribute is how unevenly the tracks represent the Descendents discography. Five tracks from Milo Goes to College, one from I Don't Want to Grow Up, seven from Everything Sucks, two from Cool to Be You and a whopping zero from both Enjoy! and ALL. I mean, Enjoy! and ALL are my two least favorite albums by the band, too, but there are still some really good gems (Cheer, Get the Time, Coolidge, Clean Sheets)  that went completely overlooked. All right, so the aforementioned Nightmares for a Week cover does technically start with ALL but that's not enough to really count. I'm just taking a stab in the dark here, but my best guess is that the bands picked their own songs from whichever albums spoke to them the most. And it really shows, the bands that lean more toward pop punk happen to be the bands doing the songs from Everything Sucks, while the heavier bands elected to cover a song from Milo. It makes a lot of sense, I just wanted to point out that my favorite track (and title for this blog) was left off the project.

Overall, this is a solid tribute album. Often times tributes wind up sounding like a studio karaoke recording at best, but the bands on Either/Or Sucks really step it up a notch and all play with this passion that can only come from really loving the song that's being played. If that's not a way to pay tribute to one of your favorite bands, I don't know what is.

Things to note:
-Either/Or Sucks is a fun name for those familiar with the Descendents album Everything Sucks. I would've preferred to have made a lame "Cool to Be You" joke, but I suppose to each their own.
-At certain points during Frank and Earnest's cover of We, I can hear a trace of Jeff Rosenstock in the vocals. I think that's kind of cool.
-I saw Nightmares for a Week play their cover of Silly Girl live at Grimaldi's Pizza in New Paltz, NY back in October 2011. I was very drunk on this drink special called the "Nightmare" and I sang every word with the band.
-The fact that We Are the Union does an 8-bit "cover" of Grand Theme at the end of Thank You pleases me a lot.
-You can stream or download this album at your liking over at the Either/Or Records bandcamp page. For your convenience, I have embedded the bandcamp player with the entire album.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Talkin' 'bout My Generation: Take the Day

In case you've forgotten (or you're new to the blog), Talkin' 'bout My Generation is a series where I take a new(ish) band that I have discovered and do my best to plug them to the masses. Whereas I metaphorically shot my load way too early with my other semi-regular series, The Elite of Just Alright, I have decided to only stick with putting up a new TBMG maybe twice a month. (Which is a faulty system because I could theoretically discover ten new bands in a month and want to cover them all, but I digress). Now, on to the feature!

I've mentioned this before, but when it comes to pop punk, I'm an early 90's Lookout! style kind of guy. Nothing against the pop punk bands who take a more of an alternative rock approach- it's just not really my flavor. So when I do find myself enjoying a pop punk band that doesn't fall into my usual mold of pop punk, it always kind of catches me off guard.

Take the Day is one such band.

To be completely honest, I had only heard of the band because they began to follow me on Tumblr. So I checked them out and found them to be quite pleasant. They had a homemade music video of them trying to save a small mouse from the cold snow while one of their songs played in the background. I think it was this adorable act that won me over. Or their acoustic cover of blink-182's I Won't Be Home for Christmas. Or maybe, just maybe, it's because they they can write a catchy hook that can get stuck in your head.

As of right now, the band has a 3-song studio EP, City Lights & Summer Nights (Part One), an acoustic single, Lydia, and a "Holiday EP" with three cover songs and an original. Musically the band sounds a lot like a culmination of the bands that they cover on the latter EP (We Shot the Moon, blink-182, and even NeverShoutNever's prettier tunes) while also sounding like other bands in the modern pop punk/emo scene (to be completely fair to the band, they refer to themselves as "Pop/Rock/Roll" on their Facebook page and they may very well be specifically avoiding the terms "pop punk" and "emo") particularly The Starting Line and Valencia.

If there's anything that I don't like about these guys, it's their usage of vocal modifiers on some tracks. It's not like they obnoxiously autotuned half their songs like some bands do, but when they've got the song writing chops to come up with a catchy headbanger like Won't Wait, I don't think they need to rely on fancy studio tricks.

In comparison to a lot of the other bands that I've covered in this blog, Take the Day seem much less "punk" and perhaps slightly out of place. But I don't think that's such a big deal. Punk or not, Take the Day has that ability to produce music that makes you want to sit on a front porch on a nice July night while drinking a nice glass of Arnold Palmer and listening to the mosquitoes that are flying into the bug zapper. I'm not sure if that's the kind of imagery that Take the Day was aiming to conjure up, but I sure hope so because they accomplish it with ease.

Things to note:
-Is it just me, or do the verses to As Am I, Isaac Asimov sound like Avril Lavigne's Complicated? Not a bad thing, just asking if anyone else hears it.
-Lydia has this really nice... almost soul-like feel to it. It's nice.
-I really think that they kind of sound like Valencia a lot. Not in a bad way- I kind of like Valencia, too. I just keep hearing it when I listen to their EP tracks. 
-You can find the band in the following ways: Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Also, here's that video of them saving the mouse from the cold:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Classics of Love - Classics of Love

Happy Valentine's Day, world! Even if you don't have a special someone to spend today with, things aren't so bad after all. Jesse Michaels is making music again! Life is worth living still!

Classics of Love first hit the scene in 2009 with their EP, Walking in Shadows and I've been anticipating this album ever since. The EP showed a lot of promise and in the three year gap between releases (okay, they also released an Art of the Underground single in 2010, so technically it's only been two years), the band has only gotten tighter and, as a result, the LP is an improvement upon their EP in almost every way.

If you're familiar with Jesse Michaels and his previous work, you probably know that he has incorporated a lot of "ska" (I'll put it in quotations in case any ska purists would like to argue this) into his music. Operation Ivy was known for heavily sprinkling their songs with upstrokes and were one of the first "real" ska-punk bands (duh) and Common Rider did the same thing with a wider variety of sounds, incorporating lo-fi rock and reggae into their music. Classics of Love doesn't really do that. Two or three songs might use the classic upstroke guitar that Michaels' bands are known for, but all-in-all this is a much faster, near hardcore album.

Okay, so it's not quite a hardcore album either, but there's no denying the influence that 80's hardcore has on the sound of this album. The band (comprised of Michaels and all three members of Hard Girls) plays hard and fast, and it is definitely a call back to punk rock circa 1990. The longest track clocks in at 2 minutes and 37 seconds, while the whole album runs for a grand total of 22 minutes and 39 seconds. My kind of punk rock for sure!

Lyrically the band takes its cues from all the same places they take their musical cues from. Much like a good chunk of the Operation Ivy discography, these songs are soaked in social criticism. Unlike so many bands these days that will write a political anthem and then eat their own words, there's something about the way that Jesse Michaels carries himself and his songs so that he never comes off as overtly preachy. Yes, he's rallying against classism and poor up keep of the law just like so many bands, but there's an urgency and spark in his voice that everyone else is lacking. Perhaps it's the fact that this album calls back to the politically (however personal or universal) charged era of punk rock, but the band's cries of "We need a change!" comes off as much more sincere than any of their contemporaries.

2012 has the potential to be an incredibly bleak year. Politicians spend their time fighting over the tiniest of issues instead of the big things. People think it's okay to tweet "I'd like Chris Brown beat me any day" and mean it. The apocalypse may very well be coming (unlikely, but I won't rule out the smallest of possibilities).
It's all incredibly sick and sad.

Yes, 2012 looks very bleak, but Classics of Love's debut helps shine a light in these dark times. Thank you, Jesse Michaels.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Hextalls - Rock You to Sleep

The Hextalls are a pop punk band in the vein of the 1990's Lookout Records roster. This, of course, means that it's the best kind of pop punk out there. Short and (mostly) humorous songs about girls, parents, hockey and Kenny Rogers, is there anything else a pop punk kid could ask for?

Rock You to Sleep is the newest release from the Canadian quartet. I'm still somewhat of a new fan of the band, but I am aware that they started in 1998, broke up for awhile, then got back together in 2007. I haven't listened to any of their pre-break up music, so I can't honestly make an accurate comparison to how their music has changed since their inception, but I can say that this new album follows the exact same formula as the previous two (2008's Call It a Comeback and 2010's Get Smashed). It also follows the exact same formula as every Teenage Bottlerocket album, most Steinways songs, the first Dopamines album, tunes by the Adorkables and even the Copyrights and Lillingtons.

By that, I mean it is a shining example of the modern pop punk genre that has been so graciously dubbed, for better or for worse, "Ramones-core." This is not a bad thing, especially if you're a fan of the genre, because it means that you know exactly what the songs will sound like and if you'll enjoy them or not. However, it does mean that there is very little diversity of sounds found on the album, and the little that is there does not do a whole lot to make the album stand out above the rest. The best modern pop punk bands all do something with the three-chord formula to make their music stick out: The Ergs! aped the Descendents' style of oddball guitar chords mixed with incredible bass lines; The Copyrights (and Dear Landlord) know how to create vocal harmonies that almost put Bad Religion to shame; Teenage Bottlerocket has Kody from the Lillingtons and The Dopamines simply decided to just release Expect the Worst, the best pop punk album of the decade. The Hextalls will incorporate a piano on a few tracks and sing about Kenny Rogers, but that's not enough to really push them to the top of the game.On the tracks that do feature the piano, such as I Don't Want to Go Down to the Basement, Either (what a fun Ramones nod, although the song itself is about poop) and Pebbles the Happiest Chihuahua, the singer (who, despite the claims made in My Name Is Kenny Rogers, is not Kenny Rogers) kind of sounds like Ben Folds. While it does make the band slightly more unique, it's still not enough to really make them the next big thing in pop punk.

I realize I'm giving off the impression that this album is nothing special, but it is actually really good. The songs are catchy and will get stuck in your head even if you don't realize it. The band members have to be at least in their late 20's at this point, but they still sing about things that kids can relate to: "lead single" (I'm not sure if it's a proper single or it was just released as an album teaser) I Just Want to Sleep in the Treehouse features a very angry "Fuck you mom! And fuck you dad! You don't have a fuckin' clue about me!" and while the lyrics are meant to be silly and immature, I don't think there's a single person who wouldn't shout along with the band at a show. These songs are those kind of songs: light-hearted and fun to sing.

Rock You to Sleep is a fun album, regardless of the constant mentions of Kenny Rogers. The Hextalls might not be trying to take over the world, but they'll certainly take over your speakers. And isn't that what a good pop punk album is supposed to do?

Stream/buy it on bandcamp!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Top 5 Concept Albums/Rock Operas

The term "concept album" can be pretty broad. In its most basic sense, it is used to describe any album that has recurring themes present throughout the tracks. In my experience people will often use "concept album" to describe albums with a running narrative from song-to-song. While this is technically correct (the best kind of correct), the running narrative can be more accurately described as a "rock opera" (or metal opera, or hip-hopera or what-have-you), while a concept album can even be something as simple as the song titles all having a common element (this is something I learned recently... The Ventures released an album titled The Colorful Ventures in 1961 and each song had a different color in its title. Being an instrumental band, there were no lyrical themes or characters popping up anywhere but it's still a unifying concept and thus, a concept album).

With that said and done, most of my favorite concept albums are rock operas.

05. Fucked Up - David Comes to Life (Matador; 2011)
The newest album on this list, it's also the most impressive in terms of just how much effort was put into making it. Fucked Up has always kind of pushed the boundaries of what a hardcore band is supposed to do, but they level of commitment that they put into making this album goes well beyond their normal threshold. Hell, it goes well beyond the level of commitment that almost any band ever has put into making an album. I still don't fully understand the story being told (Something along the lines of being about a guy named David who works at a lightbulb factory, and he falls for a girl named Veronica. They have revolutionary ideas and plan to blow up the aforementioned factory but then Veronica dies when the bomb is set off early. Then there's a girl named Vivian and a narrator/villain named Octavio, who is controlling the story, and David fights him for control... but then it gets super-meta and the band is also apparently cast into the story and pulling some strings or something...), but it doesn't make the album less enjoyable. But seriously, how many other bands will not only record an 18-track, 75-minute album, but also record eight additional tracks to complement the story (two of those songs simply just introduce the town that the album's story takes place in(!), four of which introduce the four main characters, one that is kind of like an epilogue, and a final song to explain the entire concept) as well as a fake compilation featuring 11 brand new songs by fictional bands from the fictional location of the proper album? I won't pretend to be an expert on what the original SMiLE was supposed to be like, nor will I pretend to know exactly how epic Songs from the Black Hole was planned to become, but I can say that David Comes to Life easily shadows those albums in terms of presentation (and existing in its intended format).

04. New Found Glory - Catalyst (Drive-Thru/Geffen; 2004)
This album is not a story. At least I don't believe that it was meant to be. But there's most definitely a general theme of self-doubt and failing in almost every song. It is important to note that Catalyst is their sophomore effort on a major label: their self-titled had been a big hit and signing to Geffen and releasing Sticks and Stones only increased their exposure. To me it only seems natural that the band members began to become unsure of the direction they were heading; after all, once you're made it to the top, there's nowhere to go but down. The artwork in lyric booklet is what first tipped me off to thinking that there was more to this album than well-produced hooks. Instead of trying to describe it, just take a look:
A sleazy, snake-like creature wearing a suit is up in the front. I can only assume that he is the Catalyst. Kids with sad or blank expressions holding instruments. One kid is signing a contract in the snake-man's hands. Factory buildings that read things like "Tattoo" "Insta Star" "Angst" "Heart Removal." It's not exactly subtle. The back cover and inside artwork don't try to keep the band's feelings concerning major label success a secret:
Nope, no allusions or metaphors here.
Okay, so teen angst and hating "the man" are not the most original or compelling of concepts to base an album around, I admit that. It's definitely not as impressive as Fucked Up's David Comes to Life but that's just not a fair comparison. What I think the most interesting thing about Catalyst is that when New Found Glory released the album, they were doing the very thing that the album was (seemingly) rallying against, that being a pop punk band getting mixed up in a major label's roster. There is no way that they were not aware of that fact though and in the very first song (fittingly titled "Intro") they claim: "It's more than a t-shirt, it's more than a tattoo. It's more than a phase, this is how I was raised. You keep trying to market this feeling, I heard what you said. And no we're not the same." It's the only song that doesn't have any real negative connotations or introspective questions about themselves and I think it really speaks true to the general character of the band as a whole, especially seeing how they've bounced back from the "going major and slowing down" point of their career that so many other bands have trouble recovering from.

03. Coheed and Cambria - In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 (Equal Vision; 2003)
In theory, I could have picked the entire Coheed and Cambria studio discography and put it in this spot. But that would've been a really long entry and I only want to write so much right now. I picked In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 because, even though I prefer the musical complexity of Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Vol. 1: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness (I'm abbreviating that from now on) more, the segment of the story that is being told on IKSSE:3 is my favorite part of the entire Amory Wars. I love the fact that the entire band is based around a concept, and I love that the concept is a sci fi epic. My favorite parts of almost every story is when everything has gone wrong to the point where the protagonist finally wakes up and realizes what he or she has to do and accepts their role in the story, and IKSSE:3 is that part of the Amory Wars saga. The story can be a bit confusing to follow if you don't know a thing about it (it is way easy to follow if you've read the corresponding comics), but what makes this a great concept album is that the tracks are strong enough to stand on their own and the listener doesn't even have to know that there are entire battles going on in the songs. It's also the last part of the story that doesn't bum me out. I know I just said that I prefer GAIBSIV, V1:FFTTEOM in terms of the music, but the story takes a very meta turn on that album that involves a character, the Writing Writer, who is penning the entire Claudio Kilgannon saga which means that everything that happened on the first two albums was merely a story being written. By the next album, Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Vol. 2: No World for Tomorrow, things go back to the sci fi world and the Writer exits the story but it still kind of ruins the whole concept for me because I still know that there's someone pulling the strings and the characters were never in any real danger. Maybe I'm looking at it the wrong way and there was some Stranger Than Fiction things going on, but I still think that the Amory Wars story peaked with In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3.

02. AFI - Sing the Sorrow (DreamWorks; 2003)
Including this one might be controversial. At least to hardcore AFI fans, apparently there's some disconnect between fans as to whether there is any real concept on this album or if it's all just speculation by people with way too much free time on their hands. I'm not going to try to pick apart the entire Clandestine/336-337/Sing the Sorrow/etc mystery- there's no way that I understand it enough to do it any justice. I do, however, understand that there is a theory that the album is examines the cycles of life, self reflection of death and, possibly, the ability (regardless of whether it's a good thing or not) to break out of those cycles. One of the more prominent concepts that I've heard relates to life being cyclical. There are twelve months in a year, during which many things happen, first and foremost the temperature and climates change. When one year ends another simply begins and starts the cycle all over. Allegedly, each track can be seen as representing a month and the sounds that can be heard at the end of the album are similar to those at the very beginning, giving the impression that the album can be listened to on repeat without any sonic disruption, throwing the listener into yet another cycle (and also shines some light on how it is possible for the Leaving Song Part II to occur before the Leaving Song).
This ties into the concept of reincarnation, always starting over from the beginning. The concept of breaking out of the reincarnation is explored in the hidden track, This Time Imperfect, as well as the then-unreleased song Rabbits Are Roadkill on Route 37 (the lyric booklet contains a picture of a dead rabbit with "rabbits are roadkill" written next to it).  Lyrics such as "I cannot leave here, I cannot stay" and "There are no flowers, no not this time/There will be no angels gracing the lines" which create an image of being stuck in limbo, and allegedly Rabbits (Hares) cannot be reincarnated according to the Chinese Zodiac and Davey Havok is a Rabbit himself and this leads to the conclusion that the album is not only about the cyclical nature of life, but also about how Davey Havok is living his final life.
All of this makes for a super interesting concept, and it's one of the main reasons I love the album so much, but I do not know how much of that last part is true. Every time I try to search for links between reincarnation and the Chinese Zodiac I can never find any information on whether or not it is believed that Rabbits are in their final stage of life, I'm always just brought to fan pages about the band. That said, it is fun to notice the little things, such as how Rabbits are fourth in the Chinese Zodiac cycle, while track four on Sing the Sorrow is Silver and Cold, which has a corresponding music video showing Davey Havok about to jump off a bridge while his bandmates, rushing to stop him, all die in a car crash and implications that Havok was a ghost the entire time. 

01. Green Day - American Idiot (Reprise; 2004)
Come on, like this wasn't going to be my number one. Green Day was the first band I really fell in love with. So much to the point that between 2001 and 2003, I had kind of overplayed every single one of their albums and I couldn't listen to them anymore. Then in 2004, they released American Idiot and I finally had something new to listen to on repeat. I've raved on and on about American Idiot before (right here if you want to read it:, so I won't go into a whole lot of my history with the album. What I really like about American Idiot is that they not only created an easily accessible album that reignited their career, but they created an easily accessible rock opera that lays its cards out on the table for all to see all while still using their trademark Green Day lyrical imagery. Anyone who says differently, and that the band "totally changed their sound" for this album, clearly has never listened to Warning or the second half of nimrod. I get that it's one thing to dislike an album or its singles after hearing them a million times, but that's no excuse for making blind accusations that can be easily rebutted.

But I digress. American Idiot's story is extremely easy to follow, which definitely contributed to why it has become the most successful rock opera of the new century. Being a rock opera with such an incredibly fluid story, the track list of the album is really the only way to listen to the story of Jesus of Suburbia, and putting the songs in any other order would be like taking your favorite book and rearranging it so that the big reveal in chapter 34 comes in right after chapter 6 while the introduction of the red herring in chapter 4 has been placed back as the final chapter. This predetermined listening order could be seen as a bit of a problem, because listening to music is not exactly the same as reading a book, but I like to think of it as one of the album's strengths. Other rock operas may have well-crafted and involved stories (such as Coheed and Cambria's Amory Wars or Fucked Up's David Comes to Life), but with cryptic lyrics that can sometimes be difficult to decipher in terms of the grand scheme, it's sometimes impossible to really know how the story is unfolding unless you have a reliable source to help you out (for example, the Amory Wars comic series based on the music of Coheed and Cambria or interviews with members of Fucked Up discussing the album) (actually, the members of Fucked Up have been known to make things up for the fun of it, so an interview with them might not be the most reliable of sources).

There are plenty of ways to do a concept album, but American Idiot is how to tell a story in a rock opera right. I can only hope that the next great rock opera takes cues from Green Day's storytelling, Coheed and Cambria's visual companions and Fucked Up's dedication to making the story come to life.

Honorable Mention
It would be stupid of me to not at least mention the Who somewhere. My dad introduced me to the Who at a very young age, specifically songs from Tommy and Who's Next. While the latter was really a compilation of stuff that survived the Lifehouse project, Tommy was definitely the first concept album that I had ever heard. Pinball Wizard and Sally Simpson were favorites to sing along with and when I was about seven or eight, I saw the film version of Tommy. Despite that I didn't truly understand what was going on in the story until I rewatched it again while I was in college, I still greatly enjoyed it because I got to see the music I was listening to come alive on screen with actors and dancing. I think my love for American Idiot's success stems from being in awe of how Tommy went from being "just an album" and turned into so much more, because now all of that is happening again, but based on the music of a band that I grew up listening to instead.

So that only took a couple of hours to write. I'm amazed that I stuck with it. If you managed to read this far, kudos and thanks for reading! How about leaving some of your favorite concept albums/rock operas in the comments?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Matt Pryor - May Day

Last January, the Get Up Kids released their comeback album There Are Rules. Here we are a year later (I know it's February, shut it), and front man Matt Pryor has completed his second solo album, May Day. Mostly funded by a Kickstarter campaign and a bulk of it being written and recorded last May (get it?), this sophomore release is not only the perfect follow up to his debut album, Confidence Man, but also as the perfect follow up to last year's Get Up Kids album.

Musically, the album never strays far from the formula used on Confidence Man and, to some extent, Matt Pryor's other project the New Amsterdams. Acoustic guitars, soft drumming, the occasional harmonica and a plethora of instruments that if I named individually would take awhile. Last but not least there is, of course, Matt's signature scratchy, yet soft and sweet, vocals. When looked at from this aspect, May Day becomes the perfect follow up to Confidence Man, albeit it slightly odd as in the past, Matt has always tried to stay away from releasing two similar sounding albums in a row (that may or may not be entirely accurate, I'm basing that sentence entirely on the Get Up Kids discography and nothing else).

Lyrically, however, May Day hits closer to the bitterness found on There Are Rules. Both albums were written somewhat within the same time frame, so it's only natural to think that the emotions and feelings in the songs would be carried over. That said, the anger and disappointment on the Get Up Kids album is deeply rooted in the "savior" status that the Get Up Kids have in the emo scene and their rejection of title, whereas the anger on May Day could be said to be more heart-on-sleeve. Don't let May Day fool you, the songs may sound nice and pretty, but you don't even need to listen to the lyrics to know that the songs are angry, just read some of the song titles: The Lies Are Keeping Me Here. As If I Could Fall in Love with You Again. Polish the Broken Glass. Unhappy is the Only Happy You'll Ever Be. As Lies Go... This One is Beautiful. You Won't Get Any Blood from Me. You don't have to be a Sherlock to know there are some recurring themes of negativity going on here.

Two of the albums strongest tracks are possibly some of the angriest. Track four, Like a Professional, calls out an old friend while also referencing his work with the Get Up Kids: "What became of everyone I used to know/I wrote that song for you, and I meant every word" The song ends on a bitter note, with Pryor singing "And to fail/and trust me, when you fall you will fall hard/oh, it sails/and you lose sight of who you really are." The other track, Your New Favorite, sounds like a really sweet song upon first listen and it musically is reminiscent of Confidence Man's title track. With a chorus like "So I'm going on whistling to your new favorite song/whistling your new favorite song" it is easy to mistake it for the future highlight song of the next mixtape that you're going to make for that special someone. But then you listen to lines such as "I can lie to you so genuine/I sell it with a smile/I can thanks ladies and gentlemen/while breaking up inside" and you have stop for awhile and re-consider the song's meaning. Yes, the Get Up Kids had some bitter songs, but these songs have their own bitter identity and show that Matt Pryor still has it in him.

After all of the bitterness is over, the album ends on a rather loving note. It's almost like a story where the clouds have finally cleared and the character is realizing it's not all that bad and there are some nice things worth having in life in spite of all the awful things. "While I was gone/it was nothing but midnight/a new day has dawned/so welcome the sunlight/I've seen everything that my tired eyes would view/there's nothing that compares to seeing you."

There are a lot of front men from the modern punk scene doing the solo acoustic thing these days. Maybe it's because the Get Up Kids were never really "punk" to begin with but Matt Pryor avoids being lumped in with the Revival Tour crowd by taking a different approach to roughly the same folksy, acoustic music. Of course, he does perform on the Where's the Band? Tour, but none of those other guys have officially released solo albums yet so it still seems refreshingly original.

(Speaking of the Where's the Band? Tour, this album features two iTunes bonus tracks: covers of Husking Bee's Walk and Saves the Day's Freakish. They originally on the Three Way Split between him, Chris Conley [of Save's the Day] [duh] and Masafumi Isobe [of Husking Bee] [as you probably figured out])

Edit: It has come to my attention that I'm an idiot. Dustin Kensrue, of Thrice, has released a solo album, as well as a Christmas album. I know I've never received any comments correcting the mistakes that I make, but I just wanted to address it ahead of time in case someone comes across this blog in the future and wants to tell me that I messed up.

Edit part 2: the guy from Bayside also just released a solo album last month. I am super far behind on the times.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Talkin' 'bout My Generation: Masked Intruder

Masked Intruder is the best pop punk band that you hope never gets out of prison. At least that's what their Facebook would tell you. Their self-titled demo/EP was my favorite short playing release of last year and I expect that once their full length is released that I'll be listening to that just as much, if not more, than the EP.

I hate it when people use the term "buzzing guitars" to describe the sound of a band. Mostly because it is used when they really mean that it sounds kind of like the Ramones, but also because at this point it is used so often to describe a variety of bands that I think that it has kind of lost any real meaning (this is assuming it had any actual meaning to begin with). With that in mind, this album is very Ramones-esque. But with more guitar solos and nasally vocals. I guess that kind of makes them like an American version of the Buzzcocks. Lyrically, the band focuses on girls and getting into trouble with the law. The classic punk stuff, in other words, you know, the kind of things that bands like the Ramones or Buzzcocks would sing about. Edgy stuff, I know.

It should be noted that Masked Intruder is a gimmick band. Their name (and sometimes their lyrics) reflect the band's appearance as actual masked intruders, hence the first sentence of this entry. Their whole schtick is that they claim to actually be prisoners. They will play shows dressed in ski masks and matching Chuck Taylors, and they will refer to each other as the color of their mask and shoes (In case you're wondering: Blue sings and plays lead guitar, Green is rhythm guitar and backing vocals, Yellow [aka Orange] plays bass and Red is the drummer). They will make Facebook status updates saying things like "the warden let us out to finish recording our demos today" or something. Normally gimmicky bands are good for their live show, but their music falls flat when recorded in the studio. I don't know a single person who says that they enjoy listening to GWAR unless they're either about to go see them live or they just came back from a GWAR show. People might be a little more divided when it comes to the Aquabats, but for me they're definitely a band where I enjoy their music more in a live setting. Masked Intruder isn't like that. Perhaps it is because their music doesn't heavily rely on the knowledge that the band poses as actual masked intruders or maybe it is just because I like this brand of pop punk so much that I am willing to overlook it. Either way, the music is enjoyable and that's the important part.

Give it a listen and see what you think. And if you dig it, go like them on Facebook.

Talkin' 'bout My Generation

New semi-regular column because I'm already exhausting myself with The Elite of Just Alright. This one will be centered around modern bands and my praise for them. Get pumped.