Thursday, July 26, 2012

Album Review: With the Punches - Seams & Stitches

This review was originally published on DyingScene.

For those readers who are unfamiliar with them, With the Punches is a pop punk band from Newburgh, NY. Their style falls in line with the modern pop punk that’s so popular with the kids these days- there’s a definite hardcore influence on their music, but there are also layers upon layers of melodies and a keen sense of pop music driving their songs. After four years of playing shows together, the band has just released their debut LP, Seams & Stitches, on Doghouse Records.

Seams & Stitches plays it relatively safe. Twelve songs about girls, heartbreak, wanting to ‘get out of this place’, and betrayal. The music is also fairly standard: lots of fast chugging, steady beats, and guitar leads that appear to be present at all times. In many ways, “Seams & Stitches” sounds a lot like New Found Glory’s self titled and Valencia’s “This Could Be a Possibility” had a child. I don’t mean that in a bad way- it’s just a way of saying that a lot of what is on this album has been heard before.

Still, Seams & Stitches has its moments, even if it’s been done before. The true highlight is probably the intensity of lead singer Jesse Vadala’s vocals. At times he sounds a little similar to Valencia’s Shane Henderson, but there’s an aggressiveness in Vadala’s voice that is definitely a integral part of With the Punches’ sound.  It’s that harshness that sometimes enters his voice that really sells the bitter attitude in tracks like “Postcards” and “Face Value” (which happen to be two of the strongest tracks present on the album).

In the realm of pop punk, whether it’s been done before or not should be irrelevant- there are only so many ways to experiment with the sound before you’re playing a different genre. With the Punches don’t try to be anything that they’re not- and it works out well for them. The band may not be reinventing the wheel on Seams & Stitches, but why would they want to reinvent something that works perfectly fine?

RIYL: New Found Glory, Valencia, The Story So Far

Friday, July 20, 2012

Album Review: Versus the World - Drink. Sing. Live. Love.

This review was originally published on DyingScene.

Versus the World is an alternative/pop punk/post-hardcore/something-else-I’m-sure-I’m-forgetting band. The band was formed by bassist Mike Davenport, best known for his time as the bassist of the Ataris from 1998 to 2005. Guitarist Chris Flippin also plays in Lagwagon. This is just background to understand that the members of Versus the World are well seasoned players in the pop punk and post-hardcore genres. And well seasoned they are.

[Note: It should be noted that the use of “post-hardcore” here refers to the general Dischord Records sound, rather than its modern usage]

“Drink. Sing. Live. Love.” is Versus the World’s sophomore album, and even though it’s been seven years since their self titled debut was released, “Drink. Sing. Live. Love” (referred to as “DSLL” from now on) plays effortlessly as if there was never a hiatus in between releases. It sounds really good: the vocals are clean, the guitars are loud, the bass is crisp, and the drums are steady. Vocalist Donald Spence has an impressively wide range- sometimes he sounds as smooth as Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump, while other times he’s as raw as Alkaline Trio’s Daniel Andriano. And he utilizes that range well to work with the music.

There’s a dark quality to Versus the World’s music, akin to Alkaline Trio or Bayside. But whereas the former bands drown their depression with alcohol, Versus the World takes a somewhat more optimistic approach to cynicism. “Oh hallelujah, I ain’t young, but I ain’t dead yet, I got more promise than regret” sings Spence on “A Fond Farewell”. The optimism does get a nice counterbalance in the following track “The Kids Are Fucked” which sees Spence goes on to sing about the “privileged little parasites picking clean our bones”. (Also, props should be given where props are due: “The Kids Are Fucked” opens with a clip from Freaks and Geeks).

Versus the World have crafted a solid album; one that will please fans that have been waiting for the past seven years, as well draw in new listeners. It’s a nice break from the projects that the members are best known for without straying too far from their roots. Let’s just hope that it doesn’t take them another seven years to record the next one.

RIYL: The Ataris (circa 2001-2003), Alkaline Trio, Bayside

Sunday, July 15, 2012

100 Songs: 2/100: Box Car Racer - "There Is"

You know Charlie Nicholson, Catherine Zeta-Jones’ character in High Fidelity? She’s the one who Rob thought was some kind of super perfect catch that he didn’t deserve, and then one day found out that she was cheating on him? And when he went through his list to find out what it all meant, he realizes that she was just a terrible person? Yeah, I have a Charlie Nicholson in my life. 
During my first year at New Paltz, I met a girl. We spent a lot of time together, we’d go get meals with each other, we’d walk to get coffee (for her, not me), we’d watch movies at night, we made out once in the basement lounge of our Residence Hall… we weren’t quite inseparable, but we were getting pretty close. Until she went home for an extended weekend and got back together with her ex-boyfriend, something she had been considering for awhile and told all of our friends except me. I felt kind of hurt that she didn’t tell me about him- not so much because I wanted to date her but you’d think that would be something that you’d tell a friend that you spend all your time with.

Anyway, if you’re thinking that this girl was my Charlie Nicholson- you’re dead wrong. I just needed to open with that. The two of us had a mutual friend who happened to have known her from home. This mutual friend was the one who told me about the ex-boyfriend being back in the picture, and she felt badly that I was the only one who had not been informed about him because she thought I deserved to know. I don’t want to say that she then made it her mission to find me a match- but about a day later she definitely introduced me to a friend at dinner. Sparks did not fly with this friend. Mostly because my new matchmaker and I soon began seeing each other.

I don’t want to trivialize our entire relationship and say that she was a “terrible” person just like Charlie Nicholson because things ended on a sour note- but I can definitely say that we were just a terrible couple. When we argued, which happened frequently, we would rudely interrupt each other, ignoring points that the other made, or just outright not letting the other person get a word in at all. I would criticize her music selections on playlists, and instead of admitting when she made a mistake, she would instead bring up a time when I had done something similar. I don’t doubt for a moment that at the time the two of us really liked each other- but thinking back on it, we just did not have a good relationship.

And that brings me to the song. We listened to a lot of music together when we weren’t fighting. She’s the first person I ever made a mixtape for that was on an actual cassette (actually, since no one I know uses cassettes anymore, she’s the only person I’ve ever done that for) (I also used the last blank tape for her).  She was a fan of blink-182, but she had missed out on listening to Box Car Racer, which kind of surprised me a lot. So while I was making her mix, one of the songs I put on it was”There Is”. Anyone who knows the song knows that it’s a sweet and wonderful song for one person to give to another person. It was the first song we listened to at the start of 2007, and it kind of became “our song”. When Angels & Airwaves covered it, the first thing I did was share it with her and send her an mp3 of the performance. When she made me a mix, she put the song on the track list. We’d watch videos set to the song on YouTube, and we’d listen to it while being intimate. It really had become our song.

And then we broke up. I’m still not even sure how it happened. One afternoon, it just happened. Except it didn’t really, because we would still come over to each other’s rooms every single day. And all the while,”There Is”was still there for us, no matter what we were telling people about the state of our relationship.

At least, the song was there for us until I found out one night after leaving my room she had gone back to her place and hooked up with a couple of her roommate’s friends. Since we were telling people that we weren’t together, it technically wasn’t cheating, but it was still an awful feeling to find out about it. Even though we still went through a few more weeks of going back and forth before our relationship finally just ended, it was at that time when I stopped listening to the Box Car Racer songs. I absolutely despised”There Is”after that for how much it reminded me of what happened. It went unchecked in all my playlists and I couldn’t bring myself to listen to it. Never before had I hated a song so much when it used to be one of my favorites.
About a year and a half after we finally cut off all ties between us, we ended up at a party together. Being polite, we talked for a little bit and it was a miserable experience. I mentioned something that had happened during our first year of school, something that had nothing to do with our relationship, and she pretended to think for a moment before telling me that she had no recollection of what I was talking about. And from what I was told through the grapevine, when she spied me putting my arm around a female friend, she grabbed her new boyfriend and gave him a very passionate kiss. I can’t confirm if that actually happened, but I have two eyewitnesses who swear that it did occur. Again, I don’t want to say that she’s an outright terrible person because I did some awful things too, but that was while we were dating, not a year after we had split.

As for”There Is”, eventually I was able to put it on and not think about my Charlie Nicholson. In 2011. A full four and a half years after our relationship went down in flames. To this day,”There Is”is the only song that I’ve ever felt so strongly against, when it used to be extremely important to me. There is not much, if anything at all, that I can do to repair my relationship with my Charlie, but I sure hope that something like that never comes in between me and one of my favorite songs ever again.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Album Review: Teenage Bottlerocket - Freak Out!

Freak Out!, Teenage Bottlerocket's fifth full length album, continues in the same vein as the rest of the band's discography. Short, fast songs about girls, monsters, metalheads and b-movie styled revenge. It does little to show any musical progression from Total (2005), Warning Device (2008) or They Came from the Shadows (2009), but why would anyone want that from Teenage Bottlerocket? If they changed up their formula now, that would make them even more like the Ramones... and we all know how that worked out.
[Note: Animal Boy is actually one of my favorite Ramones albums. I might even rank it higher than Road to Ruin. So maybe if TBR also aped the shift in sound, it wouldn't be the end of the world]

This is kind of a lame review, but what else is there isn't much else to say about Freak Out!. Either you love the style, or you don't. There sure are some great songs on here though. "Headbanger" is a re-recording of a song by Sack, an old band featuring the Carlisle brothers and Kody Templeman. "Maverick" is a love song set to lyrics with direct ties to Top Gun. "Necrocomicon" turns the Neconomicon (from the Evil Dead series) into a comic book, while still being just as evil. "Who Killed Sensei?" takes the age old tale of finding one's master slain and seeking revenge on the guilty party. If that kind of stuff doesn't sound appealing to you, you're probably not much of a fan of the band's previous albums either.

There is one complaint that I have with the album: two of the fourteen tracks ("Mutilate Me" and "Punk House of Horror") were previously released on last year's Mutilate Me EP. They aren't even different recordings, they're the same versions. It's been three years since TBR has released a studio album, so it's a little disappointing that those songs couldn't have stayed EP exclusive while Freak Out! contained fourteen brand new songs... but hey! Beggars can't be choosers. At least they're good songs.

If there's anything at all that could have been guaranteed in 2012, it's that Teenage Bottlerocket would still sound like Teenage Bottlerocket. And they have delivered that guarantee.

RIYL: Ramones, Lillingtons, The Evil Dead Trilogy