On Billy Raffoul’s debut EP for Interscope Records, entitled 1975, Raffoul capitalizes on his strengths: powerful, soulful lyrics and precise musicianship. At just 23 years old, Billy Raffoul mesmerizes on this EP with his bluesy vocals and pain-felt delivery of every lyric. On top of that, he’s an incredibly talented and underrated guitarist.
On the first single released from the EP, called “I’m Not a Saint,” Raffoul belts out that “I’m not a saint/But I could be if I tried.” With the earnest and heartfelt delivery found on this track, you would be hard pressed to not be a believer in what he sings about. With an almost everyman-type approach to his songwriting, much like DIY-ers Brian Fallon and Butch Walker, Raffoul makes you really feel what he was going through when he wrote this songs that are easily relatable, while simultaneously brilliant.
I recently had the chance to chat with frontman and guitarist Pat DeFrancisci from a band called Tru, located in New Jersey. The group has recently released an EP called Growing Pains that reminded me a lot of a mix between Weezer’s instrumentation and Stone Temple Pilots’ vocal-approach. In this interview, Pat discusses their approach to songwriting, their key influences, and the story behind the creation of the EP.
I stumbled upon this new band, Courtship., while attending a concert in Washington, DC where they opened for Night Riots, and I immediately gravitated towards a sound that reminded me of synth-pop veterans such as Smallpools, Foster the People, and Great Good Fine Ok. On Courtship’s debut album, Denial in Paradise, I’m extremely grateful I found this LA-based artist, as they have encapsulated all of their high-energy showmanship directly into their debut album.
“Are you ready for the sequel?” sings Brendon Urie confidently on the third track, “Hey Look Ma, I Made It,” and if Panic’s rabid fan-base is any indication, they are more than ready for whatever Urie has in store for them. On Panic! At the Disco’s sixth album, Pray for the Wicked, Brendon Urie is clearly having a blast and is 100% comfortable with who he is as not only an artist, but as a person as well.
Produced by Jake Sinclair (Fall Out Boy, Weezer), the sheen and textures found on this LP are polished, but not over-produced. Coming off the successful and Grammy-nominated Death of a Bachelor album, Panic! is well equipped for the demands being put forth by their eager audience. If Death of a Bachelor was the self-reflective album of Urie’s career, then Pray for the Wicked is the full-blown party album.
The circumstances behind Mike Shinoda’s debut solo album, Fort Minor not included, could have been more desirable. Shinoda’s longtime bandmate, and best friend, Chester Bennington lost his battle with depression and you can feel each and every emotion that goes along with the loss on the Post Traumatic LP. Previously, Shinoda had released the Post Traumatic EP, which has the opening three tracks from this album, only to later announce he was going to release a full-length album to help gain closure on Bennington’s untimely death.
Many of these intensely personal tracks are very hard to listen to, as they sound like pages ripped directly out of a private journal of someone who is devastated by the loss of a close friend. Shinoda does an excellent job of encompassing the wide spectrum of thoughts that go along with a sudden loss, and the depth that he goes into on this album on describing exactly what he is going through are simultaneously heartbreaking and remarkable at the same time.
Night Riots are an alternative rock band who have toured extensively since the release of their debut album, Love Gloom. The band has also released two EPs prior to the LP, as well as two singles from their sophomore album. Last week, I had the chance to sit down with front-man Travis Hawley (front/center in picture) from the band Night Riots prior to a show on their Dark Violet tour. This interview took place at a small venue in Washington, DC where the band has played several times before, but this was their first official headlining stint. Travis talked about how they prepare for a tour and also their upcoming full length album.
On June 1st, 2018, The 1975 finally announced that the name of their new album would be A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships and released the brilliant single, “Give Yourself a Try.”
The first and most recognizable part of the song is the looped Adam Hann guitar riff that sounds almost abrasive, however the lyrics and Matt Healy’s vocals quickly bring the listener in with his trademark croon. The drum beat from George Daniel is precise and consistent, with very little variation. This beat is likely intentionally simplistic to bring the attention back to the lyrical content and soaring choruses. The bass line from Ross MacDonald complements the drum beat, however it’s not in the forefront as much as it was on the band’s previous two full lengths. The guitar and vocals are clearly what propel this song.
Coheed and Cambria have returned with the expansive, space epic-inspired song “The Dark Sentencer.” The track itself has been broken into two unique parts: a short prologue and the aforementioned track itself. The prologue sets the stage for where this story takes place in the universe that Coheed has created through a multiple album series.
The prologue begins with a gentle piano playing, and then eventually the silences breaks for the narrator to say:
Know now there is no time, space between the Well & Unknowing. Our story starts there. Well into our future, yet far beyond our past. In a romance between a pair of Unheavenly Creatures. The Five Houses of the Star Supremacy have privatized the detention zones of the galaxy. These planetary prison pits reassembled from the cracked worlds of the Great Crash. Which brings us to our stage. Where the light must learn to love the black. The Dark Sentencer. It begins with them, but ends with me. Their son, Vaxus.
Still with Coheed on this one?
On Ben Howard’s third solo album, entitled Noonday Dream, he continues to experiment with massive audio landscapes, precise musicianship, and his trademark low vocal delivery. The album was written and produced by Howard, with a few key production collaborations with band-mate Mickey Smith. On Howard’s first two albums, he established a rapport with his listeners that he has fine-tuned here on this third LP on Republic Records.
The album itself starts off with the intricate “Nica Libres at Dusk,” that sets the table nicely for the rest of the content found on this effort. Guiding the listener down this dark landscape on the first sprawling track showcases the talent that Howard has as not only an incredibly talented musician, but also a captivating storyteller. This opening track features textured arrangements and “every-man” gruff vocals from Howard.
I’m sure all of us can remember where we were when we either purchased, or were given from a friend, one of the annual Warped Tour compilation soundtracks. It signified the beginning of the Summer concert season, and another year to look forward to the annual Warped Tour. Now that the Warped Tour is on its last legs, with its final installment coming this Summer, one has to wonder about what will happen to the compilation CD that we have been expecting ever year since 1996.
The history of the compilation CD is a complicated one, much like the changing music industry over the past three decades. During the CD “boom” of the 90’s, it seemed like a ton of music buyers were looking for inexpensive ways to find out about new bands, or to sample tracks from their favorite artists’ upcoming album. The compilation CD was a great way to not only save money by not investing fully in a ton of individual albums, but also to discover artists that you may not have ever considered checking out otherwise.
For Chvrches’ third album, Love is Dead, they turned to veteran producer Greg Kurstin (Tegan & Sara, Foo Fighters) to help them craft their most memorable effort to date. Since forming in 2011, the synth-pop group has taken over the indie music scene with multiple prominent festival appearances and two well-received albums. Their fanbase was incredibly eager to hear what Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook, and Martin Doherty had cooked up for the next chapter in their story.
On Love is Dead, Chvrches have accomplished the rare feat of staying true to their original sound, while still adding even more nuance and creativity into this final product. In an era where artists get blamed for either not changing enough from album to album, or for changing too much, Chvrches have found the perfect balance of experimenting with new sounds and song structures, while still staying honest to who they are as a band.
West Thebarton are a new punk rock band from Adelaide, Australia who pride themselves on translating their high energy live shows directly into their debut record, Different Beings Being Different. Led by their fearless and extremely charismatic singer, Reverend Ray, the six other band members mesh well with the front-man’s demand for attention right from the first track. Leading off the set is their debut single, “Moving Out,” which sets the tone early for the type of frenetic rock to expect throughout this blistering LP. My first impression of this band reminded me of two other punk rock bands such as Anti-Flag (with a more polished approach and fewer political themes) mixed with the pop sensibilities of The Explosion (mostly from their great Black Tape record).
The story behind how band members meet is typically an interesting topic of conversation when they are interviewed for a press release. This is no exception with Superorganism, as their story is incredibly unique, much like their dynamic brand of music. The group consists of eight members, spanning the globe from England, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and South Korea. A large portion of the group met and formed a band called The Eversons, with now-lead vocalist Orono Noguchi finding the group from her YouTube recommends playlist, only to later submit vocals to an Eversons’ demo that the group collectively loved. With that, Superorganism relocated to London, England to form the majority of their debut, self-titled album.
With a recent stamp of approval from Sir Elton John himself and a shiny new record contract with Domino Records, Superorganism have crafted one of the strangest and mesmerizing debut albums to come out in quite some time. Featuring a blend of samples, programmed beats, heavy synths, and delicate vocals from Noguchi, the group is quickly making a name for themselves.
Live albums are typically used by a record label to either fill in the time between album releases by an artist, or to take advantage of when a band is at its peak popularity. With no shortage of catalog material, Cold War Kids have released their first live album entitled Audience. The band has released six studio albums to date, with very little lag coming in between each of the releases. Recorded on September 24, 2017 in Athens, GA, Audience capitalizes on the band’s live strengths, which is to keep the music flowing from song to song, all the while engaging the crowd in belting out each memorable hook.
Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is the sixth studio album from indie rock superstars, Arctic Monkeys, and it is also one of their more polarizing releases to date. Front-man Alex Turner recorded most of the demos for this album at his Los Angeles home, and composed the majority of the songs on a piano, rather than a guitar. This curious approach to recording a highly anticipated follow-up to a successful record in AM, followed by a lengthy hiatus, just added to the mystery of the album as a whole. Additionally, the unique promotional approach of keeping the entire record under “lock and key” by not pre-releasing any songs prior to the street date only helped with challenging listeners to absorb the entire album, rather than a couple of singles taken out of context.
The general themes found throughout this album are of science fiction, self-reflection, politics, religion, and even technology itself. The sound that Arctic Monkeys have achieved here can be best described as modern “lounge pop,” reminiscent of stylistic artists such as Father John Misty and David Bowie. Even though the majority of these songs were written and composed by Alex Turner himself, and even though it was initially suggested by his bandmates he self-release the album under his own name — due the complexity of how to add the other instrumental parts around the piano/vocals — this is still an Arctic Monkeys album. The rest of the band has enhanced the piano-driven direction of this record by creating an album worthy of your full and undivided attention.
As indie rock continues to evolve, and a growing number of bands keep getting lumped into that genre, it is becoming increasingly more difficult for bands to stick out from the pack. Such is not the case for a relatively new band called Middle Kids, as their brand of indie pop rock flourishes right from the first listen. The group, from Sydney, Australia, are comprised of lead singer/guitarist Hannah Joy, her husband and bassist Tim Fritz, and drummer Harry Day. The group has taken full advantage of the excitement that comes with releasing their debut full-length album by showcasing just how talented this trio truly are.
The Voidz, led by The Strokes’ front-man Julian Casablancas, have gone through a few housekeeping changes since their debut album Tyranny. For starters, they have dropped Casablancas’ name from their moniker, probably for the intention of making it known that they are a true band, rather than just a side project. Additionally, the band has used their second album as an experimental canvas on which to paint with all types of styles. While their debut album came across as abrasive and hard to digest, Virtue brings out the best in this crew and if you can stomach the variety of approaches used on this record, it’s quite a fun and trippy ride.
On Thirty Seconds to Mars’ fifth album, titled America, Jared Leto and his bandmates experiment with big U2-type choruses, patriotic themes, and the deeper meanings of life. The band has long-since been known for their anthemic choruses and there are plenty of those to go around on America, as well as great production and a polished sound fit for a major label and radio outlets alike.
The album itself is front-loaded with the previously released singles “Walk on Water” and “Dangerous Night.” The one-two punch of these tracks play off of each other well, with the latter being the more memorable of the two. Leto sings on the chorus that it’s a “dangerous night to fall in love/don’t know why we fight what we’ve become.” The themes of loss, heartbreak, and longing for a change in the status quo run rampant throughout the album.
Side projects, in general, are healthy for the long-term well being of a band as it allows the multiple band members to experiment with new sounds and ideas that may not be best suited for the main unit. That being said, it’s hard to find too many differences between Billie Joe’s new side gig, The Longshot, and Green Day. Billie Joe sounds just as confident as ever on the new LP and it initially reminded me of the sleek and polish of another recent side project (Foxboro Hottubs) but with more production sheen on The Longshot’s debut album.
The Longshot is comprised of guitarist Kevin Preston, drummer David Field, and bassist Jeff Matika (who has toured extensively with Green Day). “Love is for Losers” spans over 11 easily digestible tracks, with a total running time of 32 minutes. Kicking off the set with “The Last Time” Billie Joe croons, “I’ll give you all my blood, til it’s a waste of time/If that’s not good enough, you’re always on my mind.” These tongue-in-cheek lyrics are what we have grown to expect from our fearless pop-punk leader, yet it’s also a good album disclaimer of “take it or leave it.”
Lord Huron, the indie rock group from Los Angeles, have had quite a few years to grow into their trademark sound of atmospheric landscapes and wandering journeys. Vide Noir, the third studio album and their first on a major label, was mixed by Dave Fridmann (Tame Impala, The Flaming Lips) and self-produced by front-man Ben Schneider, in which he has crafted his early career masterpiece. Schneider recently credited this album to a new habit of taking nighttime drives around LA and the “search for meaning amidst the cold indifference of the universe,” according to his recent social media posts.
Straight from the album opener, “Lost in Time and Space,” we are immediately transported to a dark yet clear night landscape with subtle sounds of buzzing lights, background whispers, a harp, and eventually the folk strumming of Schneider’s acoustic guitar cuts through the soft noise. In the track, Schneider admits, “I don’t know who I am, I don’t know where I am,” and the listener is immediately pulled in to go on this journey with the band.