Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Album Review: forgetters - forgetters (LP)

Given that forgetters is made up of former members of both Jawbreaker and Against Me!, it would be easy to think that this album would be the essential punk album of not just 2012, but the entire century (thus far).

Sometimes our expectations aren't always met.

That's not to say that forgetters, the second self titled release from the Brooklyn trio (following a self-titled EP released in 2010) is an awful album, because it's not. Actually, it's pretty good: it's mellow, it's noisy, it's heavy, and it's sweet. Think more like a continuation of Jets to Brazil, minus the piano (mostly). With production and bass duties handled by J. Robbins (of Jawbox fame, although he also produced albums by Jawbreaker, Jets to Brazil, and Against Me!), the album almost playsgoing to see the band live during that era).
Blake Schwarzenbach's vocals bounce back and forth between his familiar rasp and a newer, deeper singing style. The album begins with the newer style, and honestly I was kind of worried at first because of how familiar it was, but by the time track two, "Lie Artist" kicks in, everything seems more at home.

If I've got any complaints about forgetters, it's that the album runs on for a little too long. At least half the songs on the album find their way into 5+ minute territory, and while some of those songs are the best on the album ("I'm Not Immune" and "Die By Your Own Hand" in particular), as a whole the album is a lot to take in at once. I had the same problem with Jets to Brazil's albums though, so that one might just be me.

forgetters may be far from being the punk album everyone was secretly hoping that it was going to be, but before you go around telling everyone, take some time and give it a listen. Even if only listened to in three or four song increments, the album holds together really well. Highly recommended for anyone who prefers latter-day Jawbreaker (or Jets to Brazil), and anything in the post-1990 Dischord catalog.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Album Review: Strike Twelve - Moonshine

This review was originally published on DyingScene.

Moonshine is the sophomore effort coming from the Golden State’s Strike Twelve. If you’re unfamiliar with them, Strike Twelve is a melodic skate punk band hailing Southern California. In other words, you know it’s going to be good. The songs average at around two and a half minutes in length, the guitars are aggressive a la Pennywise and the bass lays down an incredibly thick foundation in the vein of early Rise Against. Unlike those bands, however, Strike Twelve takes it easy on the politics for most of the duration on Moonshine, instead focusing their efforts on having a grand old time and personal reflections.

The album starts off on a heavy-handed note of self deprecation between the two opening tracks. From Toilet’s declaration of always finding a way to spoil anything beautiful, and The Long Tail’s refrain of “we can’t admit we’re just pieces of shit reaching out for something that we’ll never get”, Moonshine starts off as a very depressing album. Luckily things pick up with the third track, “The Beer Pong Song”, an ode to one of the biggest sports in the world of beer drinking. From there on the album is a mixed bag of fun party tunes (“San Francisco”, “No Means No”, All-a-Riot”) and more serious and introspective tunes (“Unglued”, “Washed Away”, “The List”). The album never leans too heavily in one direction, and that helps to keep things fresh… although forty-five minutes does run on for a little long for the skate punk genre and cutting two or three tracks to save for a follow up EP or B-sides to singles wouldn’t have hurt Moonshine in the slightest.

In terms of musicianship, Moonshine is just as strong and diverse as the song-writing. Sure, a lot of the sounds are familiar (there are bound to be comparisons to almost any band from the 1990’s Epitaph roster), but the members of Strike Twelve are all talented enough to make the sounds of yester-decade work for them today in the modern age. The bass work on Moonshine is particularly impressive; many tracks taking full advantage of its powerful and deep voice (so to speak) – a staple of the heyday of melodic punk bands. That’s not to take away from the rest of the band: the guitars chug their way through verses and blare out solos at all the appropriate moments, and the drums set a steady framework in which the rest of the band can do their thing. Vocalist Matty T keeps the band grounded firmly in the genre with a voice that is reminiscent of Jim Lindberg, albeit of a slightly softer timbre.

In this day and age when every other punk frontman is ditching his band for an acoustic guitar, and Epitaph is signing bands that look like they piss neon glo sticks, it’s extremely comforting that Strike Twelve exists and that they have recorded Moonshine. It is bands and albums like these that helping keep punk rock alive and well; no schticks, no gimmicks, no haircuts, just good old fashioned songs about beer, insecurity, and persistent telemarketers.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Album Review: Aspiga - Every Last Piece

This review was originally published on DyingScene.

Aspiga is a three piece pop punk act hailing from New Jersey, whose only goal is to make people feel things. Running at only a mere seven tracks long, Every Last Piece (now out on Paper + Plastick Records), the band’s third studio album, takes a risky move by trimming off extraneous fat and aims right at the aural equivalent of a gut of the listener.

Every Last Piece is filled with self-loathing and aggressive riffing that would any 90’s punk rocker smile. Frontman Kevin Day’s vocals have a way of both snarling their way across the album, while also taking the time to find themselves deep in though. The first half of the album lashes out immediately and relentlessly: from the opening refrain of “Don’t you forget- because I won’t” in “Save Your Spit” to the repeated phrasing “I’ve discovered I hate myself” for a solid minute in “Welcome to the Sympathy Party”. Toward the end of the album, Day shows off his Schwarzenbach-ism’s, dropping lines of wisdom such as “I say what I don’t mean, it keeps me from feeling anything” or the introspective “So I dig until I find every last piece of me” in the album’s final two tracks, “On the Defensive“, and “The Excavation” respectively.

Musically the album finds itself somewhere along the lines of taking 24 Hour Revenge Therapy and injecting it with the energy of Through Being Cool. From the fast striking tracks that kick off the album, to the mellow paced middle, and the intricate instrumental work that closes things out, Every Last Piece finds the perfect balance between taking influence from what came before while never sounding exactly like its predecessors.

Aspiga is not your run-of-the-mill modern pop punk band, but rather the band is a dying breed in the pop punk realm, drowning in the waves of chugged breakdowns and gang vocal choruses about how much best friends are better than girlfriends. However, instead of simply laying down and accepting defeat, Aspiga churned out Every Last Piece, a filler-free and heavy hitting album that runs short on the playtime, but long on the impression it will leave on listeners.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Album Review: Hostage Calm - Please Remain Calm

Hostage Calm is one of those bands that I never got around to checking out simply because I had never heard their name until recently. Looking back on their discography, particularly their self-titled album from 2010, it's weird that I overlooked them. But I digress, better late than never, right?

I first heard of Hostage Calm while doing a shift for DyingScene. They had just premiered a then-new song "Don't Die on Me Now" and it was said to show up on their then-upcoming (now newest) studio album Please Remain Calm. I listened to it, thought it sounded okay for a live video, and then promptly forgot about it. And now I've been listening to Please Remain Calm almost non-stop for about three weeks.

In spite of the almost Black Flag homage and street punk font style on the front cover, Hostage Calm plays a much more (dare I say it?) calm approach to punk rock. Anyone who heard their self titled album would know that, but alas I am not one of those people. The songs are composed to incorporate various stringed instruments in addition to the standard rock set up, the the harmonies that are used are seldom used by punk bands that aren't the Smoking Popes. The lyrical themes reflect the unease and concerns of growing up in these tough economical times to which any jaded youth can relate, punk rocker or not.

Due to its use of some very non-punk elements, Please Remain Calm was kind of off-putting at first. The layered vocals on Patriot sound like one of the forgotten b-sides to Weezer's Songs from the Black Hole, and The "M" Word utilizes a full 60's pop orchestral backing track to the point that you might question if Phil Spector secretly produced it. Don't get me wrong, this album is damn good- just know that if you're expecting working class punk rock (or even gruff, jaded PBR-soaked punk rock), you'll be in for a disappointment. Much like how Streetlight Manifesto has taken influences from outside of ska and turned their music into a sound that is wholly them, Hostage Calm has done for the same for punk.

Definitely worth checking out.

RIYL: Smoking Popes, Cheap Girls, Pinkerton-era Weezer

Oh yeah, the whole thing is available to stream or purchase on Bandcamp right here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Album Review: Green Day - ¡Dos!

¡Dos! is Green Day’s tenth studio album as well as the sequel to September’s ¡Uno!. As everyone knows, doing a sequel can be a risky move. There's the potential to be vastly superior to the original (Evil Dead II, T-2: Judgment Day, The Empire Strikes Back), but there's a bigger chance that it'll wind up being a major disappointment (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, The Matrix: Reloaded, The Lost World, Blues Brothers 2000, Babe: Pig in the City). ¡Dos! is a bit of a mixed bag, so it’s a good thing for Green Day that the concept of being a direct continuation of the previous installment doesn’t necessarily apply when it comes to sequel albums (unless you’re a hip-hop artist or Meatloaf).

Whereas ¡Uno! was essentially the power-pop album that Green Day probably would have recorded if they hadn’t lost the master-tapes to the now lost Cigarettes and Valentines¡Dos! has been described by the band in press releases as essentially the second Foxboro Hot Tubs album. In fact, one of the songs (“Fuck Time”) was even initially debuted as a Foxboro Hot Tubs song. Describing the album as a follow-up to 2008’s Stop, Drop and Roll isn’t too far off from being accurate- although since the material is being released under the “Green Day” name, the Bay Area trio does let their Green Day roots bleed through the songs’ composition more than they would have had it been released officially by the Hot Tubs. On ¡Uno!, many riffs and chord progressions sounded like them came from the band’s pre-2004 catalogue- with ¡Dos! the songs have a more distinctively American Idiot / 21st Century Breakdown flavor. That’s not to mean that all the songs are 5 minutes in length and begin with a slow piano segment before transforming into loud arena anthems (because they aren’t), but it’s not completely out of the question to listen to some songs and think that it sounds familiar. The chord progression in “Makeout Party” could almost be a warped version of 2009’s “East Jesus Nowhere”, while “Wild One” could very well be a revamped song that was discarded during the American Idiot sessions (not only the sound of the song, but also the lyrical references to giving up on Jesus lend to that feeling of angst and despair).

With that in mind, it’s also important to remember that it was established with the release of ¡Uno! that Green Day has dropped the “rock opera” concept that was ever-so-prevalent on American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown¡Dos! continues to take it easy on the high-level concepts and socio-political imagery in the lyrics, instead opting to focus on “fun party songs” for most of the album’s duration. Tracks like “Fuck Time”, “Makeout Party”, “Lady Cobra”, “Nightlife” and “Wow! That’s Loud” are all good old fashioned rock and roll songs about drugs, partying, and sexual attraction (or just sex). They’re sure to garner some criticism for the perceived lyrical simplicity, particularly “Fuck Time”, but has loud rock music about partying ever been known for deep and introspective lyrics? Though to be fair, “oh baby, baby it’s fuck time / you know I really wanna make you mine” does sound pretty dumb after the third or fourth time hearing it in the same sitting. “Nightlife” is the standout track out of all of them, not because it’s necessarily the best song on the album, but because it’s the only song on the album that really finds the band exploring new territory. The song is a tad slower than most other songs on the album, with a lead guitar line that is very James Bond-eque, and features guest vocals contributed by Lady Cobra, of The Mystic Knights of the Cobra, who raps her verses. The barriers between the various subgenres of rock and rap have been crossed many times before (from the Aerosmith/Run DMC and Anthrax/Public Enemy collaborations to very hip-hop influenced attitude of NYHC to *shudder* nu-metal), but it’s a line that Green Day has never crossed before. It’s not the best track that they’ve ever recorded, but kudos to them for still trying something new.

It should be noted that ¡Dos! is more than just party anthems. The album begins with the acoustic 67-second “See You Tonight”. It’s kind of a filler track, but it does add some cohesiveness to the album’s feel. First single “Stray Heart” is a pretty standard Green Day song, with a bouncy bass and simple melody, and “Ashley” is akin to one of the band’s faster songs from the nimrod.-era. [Note: It's kind of embarrassing that the phrase “could care less” makes an appearance on “Ashley”.] The album’s closing track, “Amy”, is a tune dedicated to the late Amy Winehouse. It seems a little out of place to think that Green Day would write a song for her, but considering Winehouse’s well-known party persona, it’s almost fitting that an album full of party songs would end on a somber note. In a way, it’s symbolic of the effects of too much partying.

With less diversity present in the songs ¡Dos! isn’t really as exciting as ¡Uno!, although the themes of partying and sex stay consistent enough that ¡Dos! actually winds up being the more cohesive of the two albums. For better or for worse, ¡Dos! also sounds like a more logical follow-up to the band’s post-Warning output, albeit with less lyrical heaviness and without the cast of metaphorical characters. ¡Dos! is a decent album to throw on at a big party (or a great album at a Green Day-fan gathering), but it’s best to hide it when the punks come over to play.