Review: Beach Fossils – Bunny

Beach Fossils - Bunny

For years, it started to feel like Beach Fossils were going out on top. It’s been six years since the release of their last proper album, Somersault – an album I called “near-perfect” and “a breath of fresh air” on this very site. Six years isn’t quite Modest Mouse time, but it’s enough to make you wonder if a band may have simply run out of steam and rode off into the sunset. And if they did, who could blame them? Beach Fossils has amassed a stronger body of work in seven years than many other bands do in a lifetime.

We got to have some fun on the interim – piano versions of their own songs and a Yung Lean cover leaned into the band’s penchant for sparse beauty, something they’ve played with to this day. But it was the release of lead single “Don’t Fade Away” and the announcement of their fourth studio album, Bunny, that really caught fans’ ears. Beach Fossils were back, and with an instant classic that harkened back to 90s jangle-pop (Gin Blossoms, anyone?) under their wing, it felt like they never left. And that’s a feeling that defines Bunny, an album that ultimately feels like an amalgamation of the band’s previous work. Put simply, it’s a greatest-hits record comprised of entirely new material.

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Review: Alex G – God Save the Animals

Alex G doesn’t do a lot of interviews, but for being a rising enigma in DIY and indie-rock, he seems like a pretty normal guy. In a recent Pitchfork feature, Giannascoli admitted to doing a lot of things on the fly; sure, he’s always writing, but when it comes to the prolific singer-songwriter’s experimental textures and vocal distortions, he’s really just trying to create something he finds interesting. (Ironically, he’s also convinced that every new project he releases is his worst, at least initially.) Giannascoli chose the title God Save the Animals based on intuition, and to further prove the down-to-earth nature of his work, he chose which studios the album was recorded at based on who was available that day. 

All this to say, if Giannascoli isn’t being meticulous about his constantly evolving craft, he could have fooled us. At times, God Save the Animals sounds as lush (“Cross the Sea”) as Rachel Giannascoli’s watercolor artwork; elsewhere, it sounds barren, quiet, and lonesome (“Ain’t It Easy”). The album does exactly what most new albums should: it takes the best aspects of Alex G’s past work (his long-term penchant for storytelling, Rocket’s relatively straightforward, country-leaning compositions, and House of Sugar’s use of striking electronic flourishes and pitch-shifted vocals) and miraculously weaves them into something new. The album is rich with details that become more rewarding with every listen, making God Save the Animals not only an album of the year contender, but among the best work of the songwriter’s career.

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Review: Teen Suicide – Honeybee Table at the Butterfly Feast

Sam Ray is the most likable person in indie rock. If you didn’t pick up on my sarcasm there, it’s not your fault; it doesn’t translate well to text. In actuality, many people have many reasons to dislike Sam Ray, from his scathing send-up of Car Seat Headrest to his honest albeit prickly online persona and, perhaps most notably, the needlessly edgy moniker of teen suicide itself. Whether these reasons are valid enough to dismiss his music as a whole is totally your call, but I’m here to deliver the message that Ray’s newest album (and first since American Pleasure Club’s fucking bliss, a dark night of the soul via noise-rock), honeybee table at the butterfly feast, is one of the year’s most moving surprises.

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Aaron Mook’s Top Albums of 2021

Best of 2021

or the past five years, if I’ve mustered up the energy to write anything accompanying my EOTY list, it was usually some kind of negative reflection on how tough the year was, how tough every year has been, and how things don’t seem to be getting much better. While this is generally the case for 2021 (I will not be rehashing why), I am also happy to report that this past year, moving into 2022, was the year I finally started to really try to take care of myself, mentally, emotionally, and physically. I mean, what else can you do during a time like this? My anxiety about the future is not going anywhere, so I learned to live with it, to ground myself, to care for myself, and to be confident in the face of conflict.

And as silly as it is, I owe a lot of that to pop culture. If you’re on this site, you probably do too. From quarantine watches of the Sopranos to consciously discovering more hip-hop artists and broadening my media intake in general, I was sometimes able to get to a place that made me forget about all of the things I can’t control, if only for a moment. Of course, it helped that I started recording a really, really special record with my friends in Crooner as well.

I suppose this blog should probably talk more about my end of the year list, but by now, if you’re reading this, you probably know me and the kinds of things I like. So instead, I’d just like to take this opportunity to tell you that even if things don’t get better, they can get easier. Take care of yourselves and I hope we all have a much easier 2022.

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Review: Weezer – OK Human

Weezer - Ok Human

Rivers Cuomo is a popstar. It’s an interesting revelation considering the Weezer frontman has spent the better half of the last 25 years chasing mainstream recognition (something the band has had since releasing their first single, “Undone – The Sweater Song” in 1994), but for as many times as he’s turned his band into a modern pop-rock experiment and apologized for it on the very next album, Cuomo continues to craft unbelievable earworms, whether he’s utilizing a team of co-writers and producers or simply his strat with the lightning strap.

To understand and accept this is to be a Weezer fan. Just as it’s been noted that the singular band has essentially split into two — one putting out weird records while the other puts out, well, Weezer records — fans can rarely know what to expect when they hear new music is coming, even when it’s been described to them beforehand. Put simply, we’ve been burned before, and we’re all ready to feel like clowns the day after a new single drops and it sounds closer to Twenty One Pilots than the band that wrote “Keep Fishin’.” Still, we have a reason to be excited; it seems that the plastic, filler-ridden mid-career crisis that plagued the band in the late 2000s is over. Since 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright in the End, the band has (more or less) released consistent albums that, at the very least, keep Weezer fans guessing. While they still jet back and forth between pop-rock and expertly executed power-pop, there’s energy once again present that seemed to disappear somewhere around 2007’s self-titled red album. Weezer seem invested in the music they’re making (having averaged a new album each year since 2014), and more importantly, the records they’re making feel like Weezer records – even the weird ones. For my money, their latest is the closest the band has come to merging those two lanes; OK Human is a left-field masterpiece that comes dangerously close to reaching the heights of the band’s early career.

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Aaron Mook’s Top Albums of 2020

Best of 2020

I think this is the first year since 2017 I’ve written a blog to accompany my list on the site. It’s discouraging when your work starts to suck the energy out of the things you love to do; I am thankful to write for a living, but unsure of where that leaves me when I only feel inspired to review one or two albums a year. Regardless, I feel fortunate for the opportunity to continue contributing to the site, both as a moderator, an occasional writer, and a loathed poster. (I kid, probably.)

It feels like every year after 2015, these wrap-ups have started with a sentiment like “What’s left to say about 2017? It sucked!” And to be honest, I don’t have much insight to offer regarding 2020. It was a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad, fucked-up year for a lot of reasons, and I’m not here to say it was any worse for me than it was for other people. All I can say is that it’s years like this that make you extremely grateful to have a community that loves art and discussing art as much as you do. Thank you for that.

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Review: Weezer – Weezer (The Black Album)

Weezer - Black

You say it’s a good thing that you float in the air/That way, there’s no way I will crush your pretty toenails into a thousand pieces.”

Thus ends “Only in Dreams,”the closing track of Weezer’s 1994 debut Weezer (The Blue Album). Over time, and within the context of the song, these are words written about a girl so unforgettable, so unavoidable, that she is in the air and “in your bones.” (She’s also your ride home.) But the first time I heard this song – sometime around 2005 when I was 11 – I had absolutely no idea what those lyrics meant. I only knew that they were perfect, sounding suitably epic against the song’s explosive eight minutes.

Now, 13 studio albums into their career, fans and critics alike are still picking at Rivers Cuomo’s words as if they’re enough to justify ostracizing the band for another quarter century. Besides, they’re complete nonsense. Didn’t you read that piece about his spreadsheets? Each song is constructed to give the impression of a singular idea, but in reality, none of the words were actually written to go together. It’s all meaningless.

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Review: Weezer – Weezer (Teal Album)

Weezer - Teal

The internet giveth and the internet taketh away.

Late last May, a 14-year-old Twitter user created an account dedicated to getting Weezer, now uniquely divisive in this stage of their career, to cover “Africa,” Toto’s 1982 hit and a resurging meme in the same lineage of Smash Mouth’s “All-Star” and Owl City’s “Fireflies.” Now, eight months later, the cultural tides have shifted. “Africa” has been viciously chewed up and spit out by the merciless internet machine, largely due to the outrageous popularity that accompanied Weezer’s studio cover. The song peaked number one on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart, the band’s first number one hit since 2007’s “Pork and Beans.” The band closed shows with it, made a bizarre, self-referential music video starring Weird Al for it, and even teased the song’s release with a superior cover of another Toto single, “Rosanna.”

In less than a year, “Africa” became the sort of meme your family would recognize or bring up in casual conversation, essentially nullifying the status it once held and finalizing its new residence in the lexicon’s void.

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Interview: Adam Turla of Murder By Death

Murder by Death

Writers, much like normal human beings, have a bucket lists. The difference is, our bucket lists contain people – personalities, creators, and yes, other writers that have inspired, comforted, and confounded us with their talents. Many of them will likely remain names on our lists until the day we type our last words, but occasionally, we’re lucky enough to spend a little time with the artists who have influenced us most.

Murder By Death, the Indiana-based kings and queen of gothic folk-rock, have been on my bucket list since I first discovered their catalog a decade ago. I was 14 then, a freshman in high school stealing his older brother’s CDs  based on album artwork alone, and the idea of an album telling stories about devils and deserts was already inconceivably cool to me; the fact that this same album featured guest vocals from both Gerard Way and Geoff Rickly only cemented its importance in my mind.

Now, nearly 20 years into their career, Murder By Death exist in the kind of vacuum that contains a dedicated fanbase and a fearlessness to tell any tale they can conjur. It was then my great pleasure to speak with frontman Adam Turla about his penchant for Western-influenced storytelling, the band’s songwriting process, and of course, Murder By Death’s eighth, glam-rock inspired space opera (of sorts), The Other Shore.

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Review: The Sidekicks – Happiness Hours

Happiness Hours

Happiness Hours should go down as one of the great pop artifacts of 2018. It may not be suited for Top 40, but it checks all the boxes of a great pop album. Frontman Steve Ciolek has mastered the art of turning highly personalized lyrics into something absorbing and universal; like a DIY Matt Berninger, he possesses the songwriting ability to make anyone nostalgic for a specific time in their life while distinctly singing about his own. An exercise in duality, the album’s guitars are sunny and clean, except for when they go down a darker, more distorted path. Happiness Hours presents pop music in two different lights, equally as weird and ambitious as it is bright and polished, often within the same four minute song.

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Review: Frank Turner – Be More Kind

Be More Kind

It’s almost difficult to dislike an album as inherently positive as Be More Kind. In today’s draining political and cultural climates, Frank Turner not only believes that change is possible, but that it begins within each of us. In fact, if there’s an overarching criticism to be made about the album, it’s that these songs tend to veer into the brand of vague optimism that’s better employed lining the inside of Hallmark cards. But sometimes, even those messages can be refreshing to hear, and considering the relatively low energy on display, Turner’s heart, technical ability, and good intentions carry Be More Kind a considerable distance.

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Aaron Mook’s Top Albums of 2017

Best of 2017

Kevin Abstract is the ringleader of predominantly queer, self-described “All-American Boy Band” BROCKHAMPTON, who broke into the mainstream this year with a show on Viceland, numerous music videos and three studio albums, each one more killer than the last. He also can’t drive. To most, this detail is unimportant, but to me, someone who has struggled with driving anxiety and the shame surrounding it as I approach the age of 23, it means the world. It means that my flaws do not define me and that I also have the capability to work hard and utilize the resources around me to create something artistically satisfying.

If that seems heavy, well, 2017 was a heavy year – heavier than 2016 and with 2018 showing no signs of lightening up. Ironically enough, 2017 was a year of accomplishment for myself; I graduated from college, moved away from my hometown and worked on two studio albums, one of them being my own dream-pop debut and another being a friend’s hip-hop project. But BROCKHAMPTON has inspired me to push even further. I’ve recently taken to writing in a notebook, detailing the things I want to create (a podcast, a film script, the next Flower Crown LP) and the steps I need to take to get there.

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Review: Kindling – Hush

“Rap is the new rock n’ roll,” Kanye West declared in a passionate 2013 interview with Zane Lowe, and whether you like it or not, he’s right. Any passing glance at how Top 40 has change over the past 35 years will confirm mainstream radio’s transition into pop and hip-hop. Even major rock releases this year from genre mainstays like Foo Fighters and Weezer were quickly set aside in favor of the stronger, more youthful voices of artists like Open Mike Eagle and Big K.R.I.T.

Ultimately, this leads us to a larger conversation centered around age, privilege and politics, but short of (re)writing a thesis about the importance of hip-hop in 2017, I offer you this: rock music, as a general genre tag, is dead in the water. Where it continues to thrive, however, is in niche markets – select corners of internet forums like this one and on DIY airwaves, where new bands attempting to revive everything from dream-pop to post-punk are offered equal opportunities to share their vintage visions. One such place is DKFM, an L.A.-based radio station operated by shoegaze blog When The Sun Hits, where cuts from Kindling’s massive new album, Hush, have become regular rotation.

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Review: Weezer – Pacific Daydream

Over the span of nearly 25 years, Weezer have come to be known for a lot of things – frontman Rivers Cuomo’s absurdist lyrics, the goofy Beach Boy persona that seems to contradict his well-documented reclusiveness, a series of self-titled albums known by their respective color palettes – but staying in one place for long has never been one of those things. And so it is unsurprising following the relative critical success of 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright in the End and 2016’s Weezer (White Album) that Pacific Daydream is an inconsistent album by a band whose entire career could be defined by the very same word.

If Pacific Daydream doesn’t sound like the album fans expected, it’s likely because it wasn’t the album the band originally intended to deliver. Fans of Weezer (White Album) rejoiced when Cuomo spoke of a darker, more experimental follow-up, naturally titled Weezer (Black Album). But that same praise seemed to push the band in another direction as he soon began curating a different project. Pacific Daydream is still dark and, at times, experimental, but only in the sense that it occasionally sheds the quirks Weezer have become known for in favor of generic indie-pop largely targeting the same college radio stations inhabited by bands like Twenty One Pilots and Fitz and the Tantrums.

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Interview: Brian Sella of The Front Bottoms

The Front Bottoms

Brian Sella is a notoriously sweet guy. So sweet, in fact, that he doesn’t even correct me when I refer to his band’s new single as “Raindrops” rather than its correct title, “Raining.” When I ask him if he still gets nervous playing shows, he replies, “Oh, totally!” When I inform him that I’ve been doing interviews for three years now, but that I was still nervous to speak with him, he laughs.

“Oh, don’t worry about it! You’re a professional. That’s what you’ve gotta tell yourself.”

In the context of The Front Bottoms’ discography, Going Grey reflects Sella’s current “vibe,” a word he uses frequently in our conversation. As he’ll tell me, the band learned that an “anything goes” attitude in the studio can result in plenty of band and fan favorites. In this way, Going Grey is an expansion of the polished-yet-experimental sound of their 2015 powerhouse, Back on Top. It continues to analyze topics such as mortality, relationships and getting older – oftentimes within the same three-minute pop song.

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