Saturday, September 22, 2012

Album Review: Green Day - ¡Uno!

[Note: ¡Uno! may not officially come out until September 25th, but you can stream it online via their Facebook page now.][Another note: You will have to "like" them in order to listen.]

Here’s the thing about "¡Uno!", Green Day’s ninth studio album: most people have already made up their mind about whether they’ll like it or not simply because it’s Green Day. It’s as plain as that: the crowd that has disliked Green Day since their revitalization in 2004 will continue to dislike Green Day, and the old age punks will keep on seeing them as a band that’s riding the coattails of punk rock despite playing what is seen as a bastardized version of the genre. Meanwhile, on the flip side of things, there will also always be the Green Day diehards who fall in love with every new album (or musical) instantly, and the Green Day holdouts who enjoy new music even if they don’t find it to be the most fantastic thing ever. It’s a fact. Green Day remains to be one of the most polarizing bands in punk rock, and whichever side you’re on is likely to be the side that you’ll stay on.

With that in mind, it’s still fair to wonder what “¡Uno!” is like, and how it compares to the rest of Green Day’s discography. There are a lot of factors to take into account, after all. Is it another attempt at creating a grand scale concept album, the likes of which have never been seen by a band that was once described as punk? Did they try to recapture their glory days by creating a back-to-basics type album? Or is it something brand new that the band has never done before? To be brief, the answer to these questions would be “No, not really, but at the same time, kind of yes.” But being brief is no fun in a review, so here’s a lengthy explanation:  

First and foremost, “¡Uno!” is not a concept album in the same vein as “21st Century Breakdown”, nor is it a rock opera like “American Idiot”, so in this respect it’s clear that Green Day has decided to tone things down from their more recent studio output.  However, it’s important to remember that “¡Uno!” is the first in a trilogy of albums, and as such, should not necessarily be considered reflective of the “final product”. It’s true that Green Day is releasing “¡Uno!”, “¡Dos!” and “¡Tré!” individually rather than a single three-disc set, so it can be inferred that they are sequenced in a manner that they can be listened to as separate works. However, given that all three albums were recorded in the same time frame, it would only be natural for all three albums to flow cohesively together, creating something bigger than the individual parts. This is purely speculation for now, although anyone who thinks of the album’s flow not being consistent (first single “Oh Love” is a bit of a strange place to end things; it has all this build up but then goes nowhere), should consider that the first song on “¡Dos!” might help to pick up some of the slack. In other words, while “¡Uno!” is not a traditional concept album, Green Day has taken the idea to a different level. The kids these days call it “being meta”.

So “¡Uno!” is a concept album, but not really. With that cleared up, is “Uno!” a return-to-form album that so many bands have a tendency to do? Kind of. Obviously the band can’t go back to the days of singing about masturbation or snorting coke; they’ve just gone way too far to ever truly return to that stage of their career (and let’s face it: even if they did it would just feel too phoned in). “¡Uno!” does, however, shine some light on the band’s ability to still write catch three minute rock songs, and, as many people are willing to point out, at times the sounds will recall Green Day circa 1997-2000. Often throughout the album’s forty minute runtime do the songs begin to sound as if “¡Uno!” is what “Cigarettes and Valentines” might have sounded like had the mastertapes not been ‘stolen’. In spite of the fact that the aforementioned “Oh Love” is a five minute ode to the big, sometimes dumb, repetitive choruses of classic rock, a majority of the album does not follow suit. A song like “Carpe Diem” is what “Before the Lobotomy” might have sounded like if it had been recorded as a b-side to 1997’s “nimrod.” And the main riff to third single “Let Yourself Go” sounds very similar to another punk song you may have heard before, although the guitar solo was lifted directly from the band’s earliest days from when they were still on Lookout Records. It should also be mentioned that it's incredibly nice to hear Mike Dirnt's distinctive basslines again after having been in short supply on the last few records. The number of similarities to “nimrod.” and “Warning” are not few in supply, and to namedrop them all would be time-consuming, but they are there for those who are listening out for them. In this regard, “¡Uno!” is a bit of a back-to-basics type album, although at the same time there really wasn’t anywhere to go musically after “21st Century Breakdown.” After an album like that, the only choices are really to go even bigger, or take it down a notch.

“¡Uno!” does find the band tread slightly new territory, albeit it not often. Second single, “Kill the DJ”, takes an almost indie-dance approach- for better or for worse- and winds up sounding somewhere between “Rock the Casbah” and Franz Ferdinand. “Troublemaker” uses a repetitive riff that the band may have used once or twice by the band during their time as one of their side projects, and “Oh Love” finds itself aping The Who far more than the Ramones. Do these few examples qualify “¡Uno!” as something that Green Day has never been done before? No, not really. The amount of new things tried out by the band are overshadowed by the familiarity of the rest of the songs, which will both help and hurt the album, and possibly the band, in the long run. “¡Uno!” shows that Green Day has the ability to come back from the unknown, but it also shows a little too much sameness throughout. And while this is something that’s welcome for now, after a few months of listening it could very well play itself out. All the more reason to wait for both “¡Dos!” and “¡Tré!” to drop to see if Green Day adds more variety to their newest collection of songs.

Generally when a band releases a new album, it’s not really expected for the same band to release another collection of brand new songs for at least another two years, and that the new album can be listened to without the anticipation of whether or not the follow up will affect its flow. It’s not like that with “¡Uno!” at all, because as fun and as light-hearted as the songs may be, just knowing that two more albums are coming in the near future begs the question: how will all three albums sound when played back-to-back-to-back? It's kind of difficult to give “¡Uno!” a definitive rating until the full trilogy has been released so a tentative score will have to do for now. Kudos to Green Day for breaking out of the mold that they have built for themselves over the last three or four years, but shame on them for using such a calculated ploy to build anticipation for new music of theirs. More importantly though, shame on me for falling for it. And shame on me for breaking the fourth wall.

3.5 / 5 (tentative score; it will be revisited upon the release of “¡Tré!”).

RIYL: Is this even necessary to have here? It’s Green Day… at this point you probably already know if you’ll like it or not.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Album Review: Jr. Juggernaut - Wake

This review was originally published on DyingScene.

If you’re expecting some heavy-hitting punk rock on Jr. Juggernaut’s second full length album (and Paper + Plastick debut), “Wake”, then you should probably stop reading this and check out something else. “Wake” can certainly be heavy-hitting at times, but punk rock it is not. If you could imagine a band that plays a genre close to alt-country (à la Drag the River) meets 90’s alternative revival (think lots and lots of Cheap Girls), then Jr. Juggernaut wouldn’t be too far off from the end result.

With 11 tracks clocking in at just under 50 minutes, “Wake” treads familiar territory for more or less the entire run. The songs average 3 to 4 minutes in length, following a very standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus-guitar solo-chorus-outro format. But hey, if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it, right? What “Wake” lacks in innovation, it makes up for in anthemic and sincere songwriting. Writing songs about having to work the night shift just to get by (“Night Shift), or the incredible sadness that military families have to deal with (“Give Me My Son”) aren’t as ambitious as they get, but the songs have an authenticity to them that will speak volumes to the average Joe. That doesn’t stop the band from getting existential from time-to-time. In “This Is Love” they sing “I believe in Jesus the same way I believe in ghosts. If you see ‘em then you see ‘em, if you don’t then you don’t.” Who knew that philosophy could be so blunt?

Vocalist / guitarist Mike Williamson’s vocals only help to bring the music to life. Falling somewhere between Jon Snodgrass, Ian Graham, and Josh Caterer, Williamson sings with a passion that can really only be described as “energetic apathy”. Best exemplified in mid-album track “Breath on Bone”, Williamson sings his heart out, all while still coming off as a regular blue-collar worker, and not some big rockstar. He may not appear to have a huge range, but his voice brings the music together: plenty of bands sing about being tired from their daily working lives, but with Jr. Juggernaut you really believe it.

“Wake” leaves me in a difficult place. On one hand, almost everything here has been done before by nearly every band to ever appear on Suburban Home Records, and the first few listens may be spent wondering why you’re not just listening to “Speaking in Cursive” or “You Can’t Live This Way”. On the other hand, once the songs hit you (working a 9 hour shift and/or not getting home until well after 2am helps to speed up the process), it begins to make a lot more sense why you kept “Wake” playing. Dealing with reality can be tough sometimes, and “Wake” helps to serve as a reminder that other people live in the same harsh realm as you.

RIYL: Cheap Girls, Drag the River, Dinosaur Jr.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Riot Fest Brooklyn

So yesterday was the first installment of Riot Fest in Brooklyn. The F and G trains aren't running toward Coney Island this weekend, so shuttle buses are required to get to them. Buses are awful because they have to follow the basic laws of traffic, as opposed to the trains that just run on their own tracks. Oh, then Queens-bound G trains were only running to Bedford-Nostrand before turning back around, so you'd have to switch tracks to another G train in order to get any further on the line.
I mention this because it tacked on an extra forty minutes to what was supposed to be a half hour journey.

Arrived at Williamsburg Park right as the Menzingers began to play. That was rad, at least. Missed Larry and His Flask though. The Port-a-potties were gross (as always), but the food wasn't too terribly priced (a pulled pork sandwich was going for $7, cod burger & chips went for $8... didn't see the portion sizes, but I assume they were fair). Screaming Females put on a great set, and the mint-lemonade wasn't too bad (plus $3 for lemonade was much better than the $9 for wine and champagne).

The Bronx started playing on time and the crowd began to fill up. I'm not a huge fan of them, but it was still pretty great. Halfway through the set, the clouds started forming and it got really dark and ominous. It was pretty fitting with the music, actually. I thought I'd play it safe and buy a hoodie to keep myself dry in case it began to rain during Hot Water Music's set. It started to drizzle right before I put it on, and almost immediately afterward came the announcement that the park needed to be cleared out because of heavy rains and an impending tornado, and that we could check the Riot Fest's Facebook for updates. That's when it started to pour. The timing worked out pretty well, and everyone was audibly complaining about the lack of Hot Water Music, Descendents, and Gogol Bordello.

Not one to want to stand around aimlessly in the rain, we headed back to deal with the infuriatingly slow G train and bus transfers. All while constantly checking Facebook for any updates. We decided to grab dinner around 7:15, when I saw that Riot Fest had officially canceled the rest of the event but that people could contact their point of purchase to be refunded, or that their ticket would be respected at next weekend's event in Chicago. It also mentioned that Hot Water Music and the Descendents (no word on where Gogol had gone off to) would be playing a free show at a bar in Greenpoint starting at 8. Which meant going all the way back, dealing with more buses and G trains. Seemed totally worth it though. It was even worth rushing a quick meal at Wendy's.

So a short 45 minute trip later, we were walking down Manhattan Ave to finally get to see the bands we had intended to see all along. Except then a group of people coming from the other direction told us that no one else was getting in. But they were a group of four or five, while we were just two, so surely we'd have an easier time getting in.

Nope. Apparently the bar only had a capacity of 250 or so. And of course it filled up quickly.

While I was waiting for an update from Riot Fest, I saw that there were posts from several people who had traveled a whole lot further than the 45 minutes from Carroll Gardens. One guy biked from DC. Another person flew up from Brazil. There was a group who had come from LA and another from Florence. I want to pretend that, even though I didn't get to see the Descendents, the people who did get into the bar were these people who traveled from all these far away locations. I'm still upset that I didn't get to go, but at the least it would make me feel better to know that those lucky few to get in were the ones who put a huge effort into getting there.

That said, if you wind up reading this and you happened to have gotten into the bar despite not having been at Riot Fest, I have one thing to say:

Fuck you. No, seriously. Fuck you for taking away an experience from someone who paid a whole lot of money to be there. You're an asshole.

It's also worth noting that there was no tornado in the later half of the day. Just heavy rain for about ten minutes. I realize that with the threat of such unsafe weather conditions that it makes total sense to cancel an outdoor event, but I kind of wish that the weather had at least stayed terrible to make the cancellation seem worth it.

But hey, at least I got a nice Descendents hoodie.