My memories surrounding the seventh studio album from the Red Hot Chili Peppers are flooded with great moments spent with this classic, late-90’s record on many Summer evening drives back and forth from the beach. Californication came at a time when my sixteen-year-old self was rapidly veering away from the pop that was dominating the airwaves of the radio, and I vividly remember when I purchased a CD copy of this album that I still hold in such high esteem to this day. As I look back on the 20th anniversary of this classic, I remember how I was immediately drawn into the world the band was describing in ways I never thought that I could be. I was transformed within an album from the very first notes. While my younger self may not have fully grasped all the themes that were being tossed around in the lyrics such as: death, suicide, globalization, and traveling, I could still appreciate every ounce of blood sweat and tears that the band had put into the classic LP.
Let me introduce you to Mike Frazier, an ultra-talented singer-songwriter from Virginia who has a knack for showcasing the wide range of emotions that go into telling captivating stories through his music. Frazier wastes little time getting to the point he wants to get across in a brief, 9-track album called Where The Valley Kissed The Sky. The collection is a very loose concept album of Frazier’s time spent traveling from town to town and working different jobs in the valley. A lot of his observations through this album’s lyrical content show a changing economic landscape and how it impacts the average person living in these rural areas of the country.
The opening verse of the new EP from Middle Kids sets the tone for what’s to come on this thrilling record: “We accept all beliefs and prayers/But if you don’t agree, you can sit over there/Express yourself with personal flair/But first check that it fits with the kids upstairs.” These lyrics stuck with me since it in many ways encapsulates all that goes into today’s society of expressing yourself, but not impeding on others beliefs. At times we can be so ingrained into what we believe to be morally right or just, that we may forget that many others don’t think the same way as us.
Coming just a little over a year from their debut full-length LP, Lost Friends, Middle Kids expand upon their sound in exciting ways on New Songs For Old Problems. Whereas their debut album found the Australian band figuring out their sound, this new record finds them at their most accomplished and confident.
On March 17th, 2017, Washington, DC’s indie rock/emo pop band, The Obsessives made their mark on the scene with an already dense and musically packed debut record. Fast forwarding to today, the band has re-released their debut LP with an additional ten tracks for a more complete picture of their recording process during the self-titled sessions. Citing musical inspirations from bands such as Weatherbox and The Pixies, The Obsessives waste little time in putting their stamp on their re-imagined record.
The process of growing up and figuring out this crazy thing called “life” comes in phases for a lot of us. First, there is the transition from being a kid to a young adult (with moderate changes in responsibilities), and then a young adult to a full-fledged adult (with major repercussions and changes all across the board). These transitions are messy, awkward, and at times too much to handle on our own. AJR come to terms with the latter transition on Neotheater semi-gracefully.
Most of the lyrical content and story-telling is thru the lens of lead vocalist, Jack Met, who is only 21. AJR is comprised of two other brothers, Adam and Ryan Met, to round out the multi-instrumentalist band that changes styles, genres, and tempos whenever they feel the need for it. Jack sums up the process of growing up on the opener “Next Up Forever” by stating, “I know I gotta grow up sometime, but I’m not fucking ready yet.” Many of us can relate to this situation of taking on newer roles and responsibilities as we age, yet Jack tends to take most of this in stride as we navigate through the LP.
Setting the stage for a memorable introduction, Philadelphia’s own, Big Nothing, showcase some great punk and driving melodic rock on their debut LP, Chris. With three band members (Pat Graham, Liz Parsons, and Matt Quinn) sharing vocal duties, they are plenty of bright spots to be found on this collection of songs that fit together snugly over 11 tracks that clock in just over 30 minutes. Drummer Chris Jordan (formerly of Young Livers) rounds out this band that has no shortage of musical experience or talent. The themes of emptiness, the search for meaning, and desire to be accepted are apparent even as each band member brings their unique songwriting approach to Chris. Right down to the album artwork depicting a lonely restaurant with very few patrons, it’s apparent that Big Nothing is unafraid to embrace the uncertainty of starting anew and building from the ground up.
Typically when bands take a hiatus, it can have a damaging effect on both the band and their fanbase alike. Much like a train falling off the tracks, sometimes these events can have severe consequences on a band’s ability to come back, regroup, and remain focused on putting out great music for the right reasons. Luckily, An Horse are one of those bands whose hiatus worked well in their favor, as they sound refreshed and reenergized with a collection of songs made directly for their longtime fans. Modern Air captures the earlier magic of their first two albums, while still coming up with a few new tricks along the way to acquire some new fans along the way in their rebirth.
On the latest single from the Austin rock trio, “Let Me Down” finds Culture Wars navigating through a difficult relationship that is starting to drift astray. Lead vocalist Alex Dugan wears his heart on his sleeve with lyrics such as, “I don’t want to fight no more/Voicemail right away/I know how this goes.” His vocal delivery comes across as earnest, heartfelt, and powerful all at the same time.
The song is masterfully crafted around a guitar riff through the verses and builds up to a great pre-chorus that eventually explodes into a catchy hook. Lead guitarist and electronic musician Mic Vredenburgh allows the song to brood with confidence at he provides a vast, yet dark landscape to complete the picture of Dugan’s vision. Drummer David Grayson knows just when to give delicateness to the beats in the verses, and provides pulse-pounding fills in the chorus to allow the track to soar to new heights. It’s there on the chorus where Dugan confesses, “I’m just waiting for you to let me down/So get all the way, get all the way down.” The track itself allows for thoughtful reflection in the verses, while still allowing the listener to dance their cares away in the chorus.
What do you do when you get the second album from a band that you thought would never record a follow-up? For starters, you can begin by thanking your lucky stars, especially when the sophomore record surpasses your expectations on what the band was capable of putting into existence. High Crimes delivers all over on the raw, yet incredibly catchy follow-up to The Damned Things debut, Ironiclast.
High Crimes erupts in chaos and into a wall of sound from the opening notes of “Cells,” with some sped-up guitars courtesy of Joe Trohman (Fall Out Boy) and Scott Ian (Anthrax), and the trademark wail of vocalist Keith Buckley (Every Time I Die). The truck pulsates with the drumming of Andy Hurley (Fall Out Boy) and bassist, Dan Andriano (Alkaline Trio). As far as “supergroups” are concerned, The Damned Things have no shortage of talent in every facet of their attack.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The old English proverb could be applied directly to the case of Catfish and the Bottlemen. While many artists are quick to change their styles at the drop of a hat from album to album, the working-man approach of this Welsh quartet clicks along remarkably well on their third album, called The Balance. If nothing else, Catfish and the Bottlemen know precisely the type of music that suits them, and they are willing to continue out this path, naysayers be damned.
Right down to the trademark black and white artwork, it appears that this band has crafted a trilogy of albums whose songs could very well be re-arranged from one album to the next with minimal side effects to the untrained ear. Whether this was an intentional direction from the band to hone in on their strengths in their sound, rather than create an experimental or quirky LP in their discography, The Balance lives up to its name by striking the proper ledger between their debut (The Balcony) and their sophomore effort (The Ride).
On the fourth studio album from Canadian-band The Strumbellas, the six-piece folk rock band expand their sound into nine cohesive songs. Rattlesnake takes us on a journey through multiple themes and moods, and begins to embrace less of an introspective approach to their lyrics than fans have grown accustomed to over the years. Coming off of the success of their Glassnote Records debut album, Hope, and the #1 Alternative single “Spirits,” The Strumbellas may have felt a greater sense of pressure to deliver on this record. Lucky for us, The Strumbellas were up to the task of making an LP worthy of repeat listens throughout the Spring season.
Kicking off the set with the anthemic first single, “Salvation,” The Strumbellas showcase a new-found swagger and confidence that was less apparent on their earlier work. Lead singer/guitarist Simon Ward sets the tone of the record early on this song when he sings exuberantly, “I like to dance under street lamps and walk upon the clouds/I like to shout from the rooftops and surf on top of the crowd/For many years, many years I was scared of the person I was/And I’m not perfect they say, but I know that I was born to be loved.” Ward has always put forth an optimistic view on life, and his warm approach to songwriting feels like having an old friend come by to visit.
Looking back on the tenth anniversary of Silverstein’s fourth studio album, A Shipwreck in the Sand, is an interesting project and it in many ways is a snapshot of the state of the world we were living in. Coming off a slightly commercially and critically disappointing third album in Arrivals & Departures, the band felt a sense of urgency to deliver a great record. Silverstein turned once again to the Discovering the Waterfront producer, Cameron Webb, to help them create an early-career landmark album in their discography. The themes of betrayal, loss, war, and the problems with the US health care system are prevalent throughout this LP. Self-described by the band as being one of their “heaviest” records in their career, this album takes us on a four chapter journey in the form of a captivating concept record.
When Bad Suns came into the light of the Indie Rock scene in late 2013, I was instantly enamored with their unique style of 70’s and 80’s-era post-punk all packaged in a new and vibrant form. Now on their third full-length album, Mystic Truth does little to change my glowing opinion of this young band that continues to show amazing growth and promise. Filled with shiny guitar-driven rock, this album shows staying power in being in our rotations well throughout the Spring and early-Summer seasons.
Kicking off the set with the first single, “Away We Go” paints lead singer Christo Bowman in search for love and purpose as he sings, “I need some love and affection/I’ve got no sense of direction or what to do/I hear a song on the radio that breaks through/Yeah, that’s right, I’m talking to you.” The song itself is a great reminder of the pop sensibilities that Bad Suns have come closer to perfecting in the early stages of their career and is a nice opener to a set of songs that gel well together.
Do Davey Havok and Jade Puget ever take a rest? After AFI released an EP called The Missing Man at the tail end of 2018, it could be forgiven if they would like to kick their shoes up for a bit and let their fans indulge in the new sounds. However, had they taken a break, we wouldn’t have received such a crowd-pleasing, 80’s new wave effort in Blaqk Audio’s fourth full-length LP, Only Things We Love. Filled with rich homages to 80’s synth staples such as Depeche Mode, Tears for Fears, and Erasure, Blaqk Audio can come to terms with the direction they decided to navigate on this record.
Kicking off the set with “Infinite Skin” reminded me something that could’ve easily fit on a Tears For Fears record, with the exception of the darker lyrical content that we have grown accustomed to from Havok. Davey paints a picture of despair when he sings in the opening verse, “Blood on the corner/Love on a dead end street/You heard them warn her/When you first heard of me/You stopped at nothing/Shots rang rang in the night/I’d stopped a little short, a little short of something right.” The music surrounding these words are brighter than you would expect and it turns out to be a solid choice of an album opener.
If you were to count the number of bands who have lasted 30 years and consistently put out quality material over that period, you likely wouldn’t need both hands to do so. The Bouncing Souls thankfully fall into this category of a DIY-punk band that have made a memorable legacy for themselves over their 30-year career. Crucial Moments is an EP that stands on its merit of an accomplishment as much as it is a summary of what The Bouncing Souls have done over their eventful career. Accompanied by the 96-page coffee table book of the same name, The Bouncing Souls take some time to reflect on their legacy while still showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
The process of growing up and taking on more responsibilities, or “adulting,” takes different forms for everyone. While some may glide through young adulthood into full-fledged middle-aged freedom, many of us struggle to find our place in this crazy world we live in. On the sophomore record from Holy Pinto, Aymen Saleh does a great job of encapsulating all that goes into this transition from being a care-free kid to an adult.
From the opening lyrics on Set It Off’s latest effort, Midnight, they are clearly out for world domination: “Look out, they’re closing in on you now/Wake up, or you’ll wake up six feet down/Nobody’s got your back in this town/Knock em in the teeth now.” While some bands may get buried for using cliche phrases in their music, Set It Off make everything feel genuine and passionate on this record. By embracing the pressure of needing a sure-fire hit record on their hands (after signing a new deal with Fearless Records) the Tampa, Florida four-piece band deliver all over on Midnight.
This past week I was able to sit down with lead vocalist of Silverstein, Shane Told, and discuss the process that the band went through for the REDUX: The First Ten Years retrospective release. The band is self-releasing the record and it will be available everywhere music is sold on April 12, 2019.
The New Orleans, Louisiana jam band Galactic appear to be brooding with confidence on Already Ready Already, as they continue to expand their sonic musical landscapes into a breezy 25-minute, eight-song record. While the early stages of their career focused on experimenting with various sounds that bordered between funk, rock, jazz, and blues, this set embraces the immediacy of a great pop song.