Review: A Star is Born Soundtrack

A Star is Born Soundtrack

On the music for A Star is Born, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s on-camera chemistry translates brilliantly onto the charismatic and charming soundtrack. The album opens up with an intro of a band tuning up and quickly blends into “Black Eyes,” that features Bradley Cooper on lead vocals in a bluesy rock track that shows off his impressive vocal delivery. The track itself was co-written by Cooper and Lukas Nelson and is an excellent way to start the soundtrack.

One major disclaimer about this album is that it is interspersed with movie dialogue throughout, which was a bit of a turn off for me. Some may like remembering these key scenes of dialogue from the film, but on an album that has 34 tracks, I found it a bit distracting from the songs themselves.

Review: Twenty One Pilots – Trench

Trench

Twenty One Pilots are out for world domination, as is made entirely evident on Trench, the fifth full-length LP from the dynamic duo from Columbus, Ohio. From the first gripping notes on “Jumpsuit,” it’s clear that Twenty One Pilots are calling the masses to join them in their quest for being the biggest band in the world. The fact that this album is outstanding shouldn’t stand in the way of Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun from accomplishing their goal.

Having previously heard the outstanding production of the singles such as “Levitate,” “Nico and the Niners,” and the aforementioned “Jumpsuit,” I had the inclination that Twenty One Pilots would continue to raise the bar on the already-lofty expectations for the artist. Holy hell, they pulled it off.

The first thing that stood out to me while listening to this comprehensive 14-track set is how damn good the production is throughout. Trench was produced by Tyler Joseph and Paul Meany (Mutemath), and they both hit a home run on this one. I was blown away by their other collaborative work, the EP TOP x MM, that was released for free back in December 2016, that featured several “reimagined” versions of songs from Blurryface as well as the brilliant single, “Heathens.” This continued collaboration is paying significant dividends for Twenty One Pilots as they continue to strive for a more organic sounding type of album that shines brightly.

Review: Hippo Campus – Bambi

Hippo Campus

On Hippo Campus latest offering, Bambi, they continue to stretch out their unique brand of indie rock and get their audience to come along for every note of the thrilling LP. Hippo Campus have plenty of credibility and accolades to their name in just a short amount of time, and they could have gone any number of directions with their second full-length album. What we are left with is hard to classify, yet incredibly strong, work of art from the five-piece group from St. Paul, Minnesota.

The album opener, “Mistakes,” begins with a softly sung, and almost faint, vocal delivery while the midway point begins to bring on the other samples and noise elements that are prominent on this record. “Anxious” follows this introductory track with the quirky brand of Indie/Emo rock that we have grown accustomed to from the band over the years, while still bringing in fresh elements to the Hippo Campus sound. The first real hook that got me sucked into this record is when singer Jake Luppen shouts, “Tried screaming but I won’t believe it/I’ll tell them what they want to hear then/Just give me a week or two to find it/Then maybe we’ll get back to the place we started.” This is precisely what anxiety feels like making you do: screaming from the inside, all the while doubting yourself that it was the right path to take.

Review: Thrice – Palms

Thrice - Palms

“Are you ready for my soul?/What if I’m broken from the start?/And what if I never heal?” lead vocalist Dustin Kensrue, of Thrice, sings on the sixth song on Palms. This outpouring of emotion is what we have come to expect from Thrice over the years, but the honesty and earnestness of Kensrue’s delivery feels different with this great album. Thrice have a back catalog of albums that most artists would be envious of, and on their ninth studio album, they could have gone in any number of directions. The most important course for Thrice has always been forward, as they have improved upon their unique brand of rock as they continue to evolve as artists.

Does the Seasonal Timing of an Album Release Have a Direct Impact on Its Eventual Success/Failure?

One of the things I have been pondering about over the past few weeks is why record labels would want and/or prefer to release a Summer-themed record in the Fall.  Maybe they would like for an album to be considered for year-end awards such as the Grammy’s, or for an artist to fulfill a contractual obligation during a calendar year? Taking a quick look at some of the noteworthy Fall releases this year, we can see several high-profile and established artists such as: Thrice, The 1975, Coheed & Cambria, Saves the Day, and Twenty One Pilots.

Judging by the singles released from these artists during the Summer, The 1975, Saves the Day and Twenty One Pilots’ albums may have been more thematically poised for immediate success if they were released in June or July. Other artists such as Thrice and Coheed seem to “fit” with the Fall themes, judging solely on what I have heard from the released music. I still expect the Twenty One Pilots and The 1975 albums to be hugely successful regardless of when they were released, however, these albums will genuinely marinate and sink into our consciousness throughout the rest of 2018 and bleed into the Winter of 2019. The question I am posing is, what makes an album with a clear thematic season attached to it get the album release date that eventually helps or hinders its eventual success?

For starters, let’s use the example of a well-received Fall-themed record in AFI’s, Sing the Sorrow. Any guesses on what date this album hit the streets? March 11, 2003. For a record so synonymous with autumn and the “Silver and Grey” that goes along with the changing of seasons, the timing of this release seemed a little odd. Yes, AFI became a major household name after the success of Sing the Sorrow, but if the record label had strongly considered the themes found throughout the album, many of us might have had an easier time digesting this classic LP.  The first single released from that album was “Girl’s Not Grey,” which sounded like a solid punk rock Summer jam, but again, why release that single back in the dead of Winter before the album’s eventual release in March?

It only gets stranger when you look at AFI’s subsequent release, Decemberunderground, that had a release date of June 6, 2006. Really? You have yet another chance to own the Winter and all the snowy packaging surrounding AFI’s second major-label effort, and you ship it off to the stores in the Spring. Sure, the first single of “Miss Murder” was hitting the airwaves towards the end of Winter in March or so, but this seemed like another missed opportunity to take full advantage of the themes surrounding the album.

On the other side of the coin, what happens when a bonafide Summer record drops in the Winter? Look no further than what happened to Andrew McMahon and the Wilderness on their sophomore release Zombies on Broadway. A February 10th release date, in my opinion, truly detracted away from the hype and buzz surrounding this Summer-themed album. Even my colleague, Craig Manning, made these points in his album review by explaining how so many of these songs are built for a long Summer drive, similar to the Everything in Transit album. I can’t exactly blast “Island Radio” with the windows down if I have to scrape the ice off of my car first.

Lastly, what happens when the label gets it right? Yellowcard’s Southern Air hit the record shelves on August 13, 2012, and it went on to be one of their most well-received records from both critics and fans alike. Whether or not the timing of the release had a lot to do with its success can continue to be debated for years to come. I’d like to think that labels such as Hopeless Records honestly get what their artists are trying to accomplish and can continue to market their bands in meaningful ways.

Most labels have been relying for far too long on their algorithms and other formulas of what makes an album a success or failure. If the labels would stop to consider the art they are helping release to the masses before they set a release date in stone, they may be surprised by the short-term (and long-term) reaction each LP gets. Or, maybe they would be better served to include the artists in their decision-making processes so that everything “clicks” at just the right time. For argument’s sake, let’s try and bring some of the creativity back to the art of the album release date and its associated packaging.

Review: Metric – Art of Doubt

Metric

Metric’s seventh full-length album has a curious title in Art of Doubt, as there is little doubt that this Canadian four-piece band is as confident as they’ve ever been. The first song released on this effort, “Dark Saturday,” gets the brooding tones and dark atmosphere going early on this fantastic record. Lead singer, Emily Haines, shows a ton of composure on this LP, as she swaggers through the first track and “picks her spots” on when to belt it out and when to whisper. Metric have found their late-career masterpiece in Art of Doubt, as it encompasses all of the sounds that the band has tinkered with since their formation in 1998, into an outstanding work of art.

Review: Good Charlotte – Generation Rx

Good Charlotte - Generation RX

Over the past few years, I have found it easier to defend my adoration for Good Charlotte, even after many critics had written them off after the multi-platinum success of The Young & the Hopeless. Good Charlotte is continuing to find ways to reinvent themselves in the latter stages of their career, and their seventh full-length album entitled Generation Rx is no exception. Coming off of two commercially successful albums (Cardiology and Youth Authority) after a lengthy hiatus is no small feat, and the fact that many fans have stayed with the band over their lengthy career shows the staying power of the Waldorf, Maryland natives.

Review: The Mowgli’s – I Was Starting To Wonder (EP)

The Mowgli's

On The Mowgli’s latest effort, I Was Starting to Wonder, they hone in on all of the best parts of their sound and deliver an outstanding EP from start to finish. With three full-length albums to their name thus far and multiple sold-out touring campaigns, The Mowgli’s realize who they truly are on this EP: a talented band that focuses on the optimistic side of life.

The album kicks off with “I Feel Good About This” and gets the Summertime vibes started early, and it fits perfectly with the cover art of a day out in the sun with friends. The two lead vocalists, Colin Dieden and Katie Earl, harmonize beautifully on the chorus here as they sing, “I’ve been looking for love in the distance/Down the sidewalks of cities I visit/Up the coast looking for something different/All along you were there but I missed it/I don’t know what it is but I feel good about this.” The themes of looking for love while still staying true to themselves are prevalent in this great collection of songs perfect for the end of the Summer season.

Review: Spirit Animal – Born Yesterday

Spirit Animal

I first heard of the new band, Spirit Animal, when I looked at the concert listings at my local venues and saw their name as the main support act for established artists such as Incubus and The Struts. Naturally, I was curious to check out the band if for nothing else to see what the hype was all about. On their debut album, Born Yesterday, Spirit Animal are clearly here for good times and party vibes, while still maintaining enough composure to reflect on history as well.

Having recently signed a record deal with Atlantic Records, Spirit Animal tend to embrace the high hopes put forth by their label and delivers a product worthy of our attention. In a lot of ways, I can find similarities to Spirit Animal with the early work of their tour-mates, Incubus, with the type of “funk rock” that they portray throughout their debut. However, Spirit Animal stretch out more to create a unique enough product to stand on their own as well.

Review: Fall Out Boy – Lake Effect Kid

Fall Out Boy - Lake Effect Kid

“I love you, Chicago,” Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy sings on the closing notes of the second track “City in a Garden,” and, in a lot of ways, Lake Effect Kid, is very much a love letter to Chicago and all of the band’s memories surrounding their city. Nostalgia aside, Fall Out Boy have shown that they have not peaked, and the Lake Effect Kid EP showcases some of their best work to date.

Review: Calpurnia – Scout

Calpurnia - Scout

On Calpurnia’s debut album, Scout, the four-piece group from Vancouver, Canada show off their garage-rock influences and showcase the promise of a very talented, young band. The band consists of vocalist/guitarist Finn Wolfhard (from Stranger Things), drummer Malcolm Craig, bassist Jack Anderson, and Ayla Tesler-Mabe rounding out the group on guitar and backing vocals. To simply write-off this group simply based on their age would be a big disservice to yourself and Calpurnia.

The EP itself was recorded under the tutelage of producer Cadien Lake James (of Twin Peaks), and what he is able to get out of the four youngsters is remarkable. Not to say that Calpurnia were not capable of this album without James, but the polish and sheen that comes through the speakers is really amazing.

Review: Silverstein – When Broken Is Easily Fixed

Silverstein

Looking back 15 years from Silverstein’s debut album is an interesting experiment, now knowing all of the great work they have put forth since. When Broken is Easily Fixed was a compilation of the band’s early EPs, Summer’s Stellar Gaze (2000) and When the Shadows Beam (2002), that were re-recorded for Victory Records under the tutelage of producer Justin Koop. The LP itself went on to sell over 200,000 units, far surpassing any expectations.

I first discovered Silverstein when my college roommate told me I needed to check out this new band on Victory Records named after a children’s book author (Shel Silverstein). That first song he played for me was “Bleeds No More.” I was immediately drawn into the aggressiveness of the track, from the dual-guitar attack of Neil Boshart and Josh Bradford, to the carefully placed screams of Shane Told, the track just clicked. Then as I began to investigate the other songs on When Broken is Easily Fixed, I became drawn to songs such as “Red Light Pledge” and “Wish I Could Forget You,” each with their own personalities and intricate guitar work, precise drumming, and incredible hooks. I really appreciated what Silverstein was aiming for on this release, and I knew that this band in particular was going to do something great in their career.

Interview: Black Dog Prowl

Black Dog Prowl

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Washington, DC-based band, Black Dog Prowl, in their practice space in the heart of Maryland. They will be releasing a new series of EPs this Fall, and will headline the DC Music Rocks Festival on August 18th at the legendary 9:30 Club. In this interview, we chatted about each of the four band members’ influences, touring plans, and what this next gig means to them.

Review: Dave Grohl – Play

Dave Grohl - Play

Does Dave Grohl ever sleep? The near 23-minute instrumental song, “Play,” features Dave Grohl playing all of the instruments and is chaotic enough just in its concept alone. The “album” itself was recorded at East/West Studios in LA with the audio recorded by Darrell Thorp. The project came together to help promote music education in schools (so hell yeah to Grohl for doing this).

I highly recommend using a nice set of stereo headphones to fully absorb this entire work of art, rather than streaming it through a crappy pair of standard earbuds. This massive prog-rock odyssey is tailor-made for Dave Grohl, and has all of his many influences rubber-stamped over this opus. That being said, Grohl is precise in mastering the art of changing tempos, styles, and genres and knows exactly when to crank it up, or turn it down. The composure he plays with on “Play” is nothing short of a masterpiece.

Review: Lovelytheband – Finding It Hard To Smile

Lovelytheband

On Lovelytheband’s debut album, Finding It Hard To Smile, the group grows upon the sound from their debut EP and stretches out the good vibes over the expansive 16-track LP. The new group is led by former Oh Honey lead-singer, Mitchy Collins, guitarist Jordan Greenwold and drummer Sam Price. The group has had over three million streams of their debut single, “Broken,” and has toured extensively since their debut EP dropped in 2017.

The album opens up with the instrumental/atmospheric synth-laden title track, that flows directly into the second track “Pity Party.” The synths and guitars mesh well and play off of each other nicely on this track, as drummer Sam Price sets the pacing brilliantly. The following track, “Make You Feel Pretty,” finds Lovelytheband at the utter-catchiest, with a bouncy verse and upbeat sing-a-long chorus. In the second verse, Collins paints a picture of a relationship that appears to be very one-sided, when he sings, “Oh, I could use a Xanax, maybe that’ll fix this/She’s like an addiction, something I ain’t kickin’ easy/Am I wasting my time?” These catchy, yet relatable lyrics, paint the band as group willing to wear their heart on their sleeves and showcase their vulnerabilities.

Review: Mayday Parade – Sunnyland

Mayday Parade

I’ll be the first to admit that I am very, very late to the Mayday Parade bandwagon.  Mayday Parade are a band that I would recognize on Warped Tour and the Punk Goes-compilations, tour announcements with other pop-punk bands that I enjoy, and now the new excitement of being inked to a label that truly is passionate about the artists they sign. Rise Records are getting a great piece of music to market from the Tallahassee, Florida quintet.

Before the release of Sunnyland, the group released the well-received Black Lines. As a casual fan of the group, I found the change in styles refreshing, rather than hindering what I always felt the group was capable of making: a solid rock album with killer hooks from start to finish.

Review: Florence and the Machine – High As Hope

Florence and the Machine

On Florence and the Machine’s fourth full-length LP, Florence Welch continues to experiment with expansive backing sounds of string compositions and begins to reflect on her life and relationships leading up to this moment. This album does not have too many up-tempo tracks at its disposal, and for the casual listener, it may come as a surprise that the singles do not stray too far from the rest of the content on this cohesive work of art. Personally, I felt the album would have benefited from an up-tempo rocker or two, to help balance the melancholy sounds found throughout these landscapes.

On the album opener, “June,” Welch sings, “The show was ending and I started to crack/Woke up in Chicago and the sky turned black/And you’re so high, you had to be an angel/I’m so high, I can see an angel.” As Welch opens up about her past drug use, it’s hard to not pull for her in her fight against addiction. “Hunger,” even finds Welch opening up about an eating disorder and uses relationship metaphors as well to describe her struggles. This track is one of the better and more personal pieces that she has composed at this point in her career.

Review: Dreamers – Launch

Dreamers - Launch

The opening of Dreamers’ new EP, Launch, erupts in chaos. With a siren sound launching directly into your eardrums from the opening notes, this band makes it clear that this is a call to arms. Dreamers are from Manhattan, NY, but they recently relocated to Los Angeles to work on a trilogy of EPs on Fairfax Records. Coming off the success of hit singles from the debut album, This Album Does Not Exist, such as “Sweet Disaster” and “Drugs,” Dreamers continue to take advantage of the urgency found in their songwriting style.