Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Album Review: The Offspring - Days Go By

This review was originally published on DyingScene.

Before we begin, I’m going to go on record here and say that we shouldn’t really be mad at The Offspring for recording an album like this one, as it’s really no different from any of their albums since Smash (not taking production values into account, that is). Yes, Smash is held in high esteem by 90’s punk rock fans almost everywhere, while every album afterwards is usually met with less and less enthusiasm, but they’re all structured the same. The first single is generally a jokey tune, with big hooks or dumb lyrics or some kind of movie reference worked in somehow (I do acknowledge that both “Ixnay” and “Rise and Fall” avoided this trend but don’t forget that “I Choose” and “Stuff Is Messed Up” were still singles) (and I’m aware that technically “Cruising California” was the second single from this album, but it was the first to get a world-wide release). The single usually isn’t a very good representation of what the album is like at all and more times often than not the rest of the songs are all decent enough to be deemed inoffensive, while a handful of songs can truly be considered “great” (and then there are the filler songs / other joke tunes meant to be released as future singles).

“Days Go By” is no different in that aspect. Yes, “Cruising California (Bumpin’ in My Trunk)” is god-awful- I’m not going to deny that- and I’m not saying that everyone has to like the album just because the rest of it isn’t an auto-tuned mess, but I am saying that we shouldn’t really be all that surprised or mad at the band for doing the exact same thing that they’ve always done. After all, we can put it past us that Bad Religion will forever record the same albums over and over again (regardless of whether or not we like it), so why can’t we do the same for the Offspring?

[That’s a rhetorical question. Don’t answer it. I’m sure the answer has something to do with leaving Epitaph and going mainstream or something].

Now that it’s been settled that “Days Go By” is a typical Offspring album, let’s get to the songs themselves… all of which are typical Offspring-fare. Album opener “The Future Is Now” features the slow intro-into-fast riffing approach, as well as a Dead Kennedys reference before the first verse is even over. Track two, “Secrets from the Underground” takes the signature Offspring move by having one guitar strum a chord and let it ring out while the other guitar plays all the notes in between. Both songs are pretty typical for the Offspring, and fans worried after hearing “Cruising California” will be pleasantly surprised. The album’s title track, while sounding a little too much like the Foo Fighters, isn’t particularly offensive either (and if it is offensive to anyone, they clearly haven’t been paying attention to the Offspring for the last 15 years).
Then there are the standard filler tracks that I mentioned earlier. “Turning Into You” and “Hurting As One” aren’t awful and will fit right in for when you’re in the mood for the Offspring, but “All I Have Left Is You” is that sentimental ballad that the Offspring decides is necessary every few albums. It’s bland and tacky, as one would expect of a ballad, and it’s a wonder why they continue to record ballads when they’ll never top “Gone Away” from “Ixnay on the Hombre” (I will prepare to eat crow for whenever the next album drops, but I really don’t think it’s going to happen). “I Wanna Secret Family (With You)” is a dumb throwaway song with dumb throwaway lyrics. I’m kind of surprised they didn’t make it a ska song like they did with “Don’t Pick It Up” or “The Worst Hangover Ever”. That said, the chorus is kind of fun to sing along with, provided that you’re doing it in a space where none of your friends will catch you.

I don’t really want to discuss the crap of the crop, but it must be done. Everyone knows “Cruising California” might as well have featured a guest spot by Nicki Minaj, so I’m going to skip that one. But would you believe me if I told you that “Cruising California” wasn’t the worst song on “Days Go By”? It’s true. “OC Guns” is a reggae-tinged song with incredibly obnoxious lyrics that go “Tiki tiki tiki tiki tiki, waddup holmes?” Typing that just made me annoyed, so imagine how terrible it is to listen to it. Maybe it would’ve been tolerable as an instrumental, but the lyrics absolutely kill any hope of it being good. Not even the sampling (or possibly a recreation) of the bottle clinking from the Warriors can save it. Despite how bad these two songs are, longtime Offspring fans will be the most disappointed in the re-recording of “Dirty Magic”, from the band’s 1992 album “Ignition”. The original still holds up today, so playing it any differently seems pointless other than to fill up more space on the album. I know that the band has been considering recording a new version of the song for awhile now, but it’s still played almost exactly the same, save for maybe the distortion kicking in a little sooner. The backup harmonies are new too, but I doubt that will translate any differently in a live setting. It’s not 100% awful, but the necessity of it does beg some questioning.

Luckily the album ends on a high note, with the 1-2 punch of “Dividing By Zero” and “Slim Pickens Does the Right Thing and Rides the Bomb the Hell”. Featuring classic Offspring guitar leads, speedy tempos and the signature Dexter “whoa” (and, for the uninitiated wondering about the title of the latter track, a Dr. Strangelove reference), these two songs almost make up for the rest of the album. When Noodles went on record saying that the new album could be likened to “Ignition”, these are the songs that he was talking about.

While it is by no means a perfect album, “Days Go By” is exactly what we should all expect from the Offspring at this point in time. A decent intro, leading into mediocre filler and worse, and finally it gets topped off with a last second saving grace. Maybe it changes the order of when and where the filler appears, but if the last decade has been any indication, then this is the best that we can all hope to get from the Offspring these days, for better or for worse.

RIYL: Bad Religion, Sum 41, Green Day

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Junior Battles offering Idle Ages for free download

It's been awhile since I've updated this blog with anything new, so I thought this would be some exciting news to hopefully kick things back into gear. 

I've written about Junior Battles before. Their debut album, Idle Ages, was one of my favorite releases of 2011, and it remains to get consistent plays well into 2012. They have a technical musicianship of a band like Latterman and combine it with the cynicism of the Dopamines, and then top it off with vocals that sound kind of like early Fall Out Boy. That's a bit of an odd description, but don't let it turn you off at all!

Anyway, Paper + Plastick Records is offering a free download of Idles Ages for the next two days. You can check it out right over here. And if you'd like to read the review that I wrote for Idle Ages, you can find it right here.

Tomorrow I'm hopefully going to have enough free time to work on this blog some more. I miss writing in it.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Album Review: Thieves - Acheiver

This review was originally published on DyingScene.

It’s a well known fact that concept albums are a risky move. All too often the ideas will get lost in the shuffle of making the songs work on an individual level, and making them flow together as a singular work or art; and in the process, themes can become muddled and unclear (see: Green Day’s 21 Century Breakdown). Achiever, the brand new EP by Austin, TX-based pop punk band Thieves, is said to be a concept release based around the idea of facing one’s inner demons, accepting yourself for who you are, and, ultimately, becoming a better person. While revolving around this concept is certainly an easier feat than it would be to create an entire cast of characters and then not create a coherent story (see: Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown), the lyrics and themes are almost commonplace in the modern pop punk scene already, so it seems a little odd to put an emphasis on the EP being a concept album.

Thematically, Achiever takes a lot of cues from The Wonder Years and their “I’m not sad anymore” mentality. If it weren’t for the lack of the distinct vocals of Dan “Soupy” Campbell, it wouldn’t be surprising if someone mistook this EP for a release by The Wonder Years. That’s not entirely true- “Entitled to Nothing” sounds more like New Found Glory! Jokes aside though, Achiever does follow the posi-punk state of mind almost down to a T.

Musically, Achiever also takes cues from The Wonder Years, although it wouldn’t be off to say that it also follows suit with most bands in the scene: Thieves shine in strong musicianship and a crisp production. Jumping from bouncy tunes such as “Broken Down, Breaking Ground” or “believer” to “Bioluminescence”, the five and a half minute tune that switch tempos various times. Vocalist / Guitarist Billy Canino’s vocals find themselves on the grittier side of the Pundik-nasality scale, although Canino shows his range by transforming his strained yell into a soft croon within the span of three minutes on “The Wisdom of Insecurity”, one of the release’s standout tracks.

All-in-all, Achiever is a standard pop punk release. Despite being labeled as a “concept album”, a practice that isn’t all too often found in pop punk, the EP plays it relatively safe in terms of both lyrical and musical content. This isn’t meant to be a derisive statement; it’s just when bands like The Wonder Years having been chanting “I’m not sad anymore” for over two years now, basing an EP around the concept of facing personal struggles and becoming better for doing so just doesn’t come off as that radical. It’s still a good release, the bar just needs to be set a little bit higher.

RIYL: The Wonder Years, New Found Glory, Transit

Friday, August 24, 2012

Album Review: Forever Came Calling - Contender

This review was originally published on DyingScene.

Pop punk is a genre that’s gotten stale as of late. After being reinvented in the early years of the millennium to mean “blink-182 clones”, the genre had somewhat of a revival a few years ago when The Wonder Years released “The Upsides” and since then it seems as if every band in the scene has been using that album as the blueprint for their work, for better or for worse. And it works, there are leagues of pop punk fans gushing over gang choruses, positivity, and jumping up to the defense of their beloved genre. It’s ironic almost, considering how far removed the scene is from the pop punk bands of the 1990’s Lookout-era, but I digress. My point is that it’s easy to get lost in the sea of modern pop punk bands because of how similar they all sound, and sometimes it would just be nice to get a breath of fresh air.

Forever Came Calling is not that breath of fresh air. But they still managed to craft “Contender”, which is a solid debut album that still sets them apart from the rest of the crowd. Throughout its 24 minute run time, “Contender” is filled with bitter, fast-hitting tunes, and while it does fall victim to some clich├ęs of modern pop punk, it’s still one of the better albums in the genre that I’ve heard in awhile.

Other than the vocals on the opening track “Learning” (which are mixed so low they might as well be the bass on a Dethklok album), everything about “Contender” is explosive. Catchy choruses ooze out of the album’s every pore, from the 1-2-3 punch of “For the Wolves”, “Harbours”, and “The Office” to the re-recording of “Front Porch Sunrise” (originally from the band’s split with Handguns) or the album’s sour title track. The songs all follow the same formulas that have been done before, but with the exception of “I’ll Be Better I Promise”, which sounds like it was ripped directly from the pages of early Taking Back Sunday, none of the tracks sound like they’re recycled versions of songs that were written ten years ago. That in itself is a pretty big accomplishment, and coupled with the fact that Forever Came Calling also wrote a catchy album, “Contender” is kind of a big deal. If it weren’t for Mixtapes, I would say that Forever Came Calling have released the pop punk album of the year.

“Contender” might not have many elements of classic pop punk. In fact, it barely has any outside of the fact that it’s four guys playing guitar-based music. However, if modern bands are going to continue to play the genre this way, they might as well do it like this. If anyone is going to defend pop punk, I’d put my money on Forever Came Calling.
RIYL: Man Overboard, Taking Back Sunday, With the Punches

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Album Review: month - Bath Salts EP

This review was originally published on DyingScene.

month is a band from Cleveland, OH. They keep things simple, playing heavily distorted music with noodley guitar bits and vocals that can best be described as softly screaming. They bring to mind 90’s emo bands like American Football and Cap’n Jazz, although for the more contemporary comparisons, think a slightly more restrained Joyce Manor.

The “Bath Salts” EP is a two song release by month, running exactly a total of five minutes. The first track “Vernal” starts off sounding like a song by Daytrader, another band that takes heavy influence from the emo bands of yesteryear, before launching into a Joyce Manor-esque brand of garage-emo-revival (or whatever you want to call it).

Whereas “Vernal” comes off sounding more like a modern take on classic emo, the second song, “Thermos”, is pure vintage. From the very beginning the guitars play a soft, repeating riff that vocalist Dylan England sings softly over. The instrumentation gradually becomes less clean and more distorted as the song continues. It is safe to say that “Thermos” would not be out of place on a Mike Kinsella album.

Being a two song EP, “Bath Salts” doesn’t have a whole lot to offer. But what it lacks in length, it makes up for in quality song writing. They might not be the first band to rip material straight from the 90’s emo scene and put their own spin on it, but month certainly knows how to do it very well. Showing off the band’s strength and promise, the “Bath Salts” EP is definitely worth checking out if you enjoyed “Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired” and want more before the year is over.

RIYL: Joyce Manor, American Football, Daytrader