Earlier this week, I had the chance to talk with Alex Luciano (guitar and vocals) and Noah Bowman (drums) of the band, Diet Cig. We chatted about how they write songs, artists they admire in today’s music scene, and their recording plans for after their tour wraps up.
On the sophomore effort from Stove, entitled Stove’s Favorite Friend, they are on the cusp of greatness. For several reasons that I will go into for this review, this band has showcased a true potential for their unique brand of 90’s-esque rock and roll that is pleasant on the ears. Beating to their own drum by quietly releasing this LP mid-week, on Halloween, only adds to the mystery surrounding this four-piece band from Newton, Connecticut.
Let me preface this My Chemical Romance retrospective by stating that they are my favorite band, and I still hold The Black Parade as one of my top-5 favorite albums ever recorded. Throughout My Chemical Romance’s career, I was astounded by their rise to fame, and having seen them go as the first opening band on tour with The Used, to headlining stadiums by the time The Black Parade reached its heights, and I have marveled at the lore and theatrics surrounding my favorite artist.
I recently had a chance to chat on the phone with former Motion City Soundtrack front-man, Justin Courtney Pierre. Below are the highlights from our conversation, and we chatted about everything from his preparations for his solo tour, his personal life, and what went into making his new record, In the Drink. Justin’s debut solo album is now available everywhere via Epitaph Records.
On the debut full-length album from Greta Van Fleet, Anthem of the Peaceful Army, they ask the question: What do you call classic rock when it is re-packaged with a modern rock sound? For starters, we can answer that with an emphatic response of calling it: “pretty damn fun.”
Greta Van Fleet has drawn immediate comparisons to rock and roll hall-of-famers Led Zeppelin, for obvious reasons, but they have listed several other core sound influences (such as hard rock, jazz, and blues) when interviewed by other media outlets. The band is comprised of three brothers: lead vocalist Josh Kiszka, guitarist Jake Kiszka, and bassist Sam Kiszka. Rounding out the foursome is the drummer, Danny Wagner. Coming off of a successful and highly-hyped EP, From the Fires, anticipation was at an all-time high to see what these kids from Frankenmuth, Michigan had cooked up for their debut album.
On TPC, the self-titled and fourth full-length LP from Tokyo Police Club, they crank up the guitars and hone in on their songwriting. Coming off of two quick EPs, entitled Melon Collie and the Infinite Radness (Part I and II), after the success of my favorite effort to date by the band, Forcefield, Tokyo Police Club wanted to reinvent themselves once again. What we are left with is a solid mix of guitar-driven rock by a band still trying to figure out who they are.
Starting off the 12-song set is the track called “New Blues,” that reminded me a bit of the garage-rock style of The Strokes with Dave Monks trademark earnest vocal delivery. When Monks sings, “Battle cry, I can barely sleep/It happens every single time/It’s in my heart/It’s in my soul/For once I don’t want it to be denied,” you can feel every heartbeat and drop of emotion that went into the song. It also doesn’t hurt to have a very talented guitarist backing Monks’ words in Josh Hook, who certainly lives up to his last name by crafting several key hooks in many of the memorable songs found on this album.
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.
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.
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.
On The Ex-Optimists fifth full-length album, they are not wasting any time on being taken seriously. Their latest LP demands to be cranked up and absorbed, with no outside distractions. Drowned in Moonlight is one of those rare records that you don’t expect to blow you away, yet their passion for music comes shouting through the speakers.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.