In just around four months, it’ll be ten years since Baroness released their breakthrough second album Blue. A critical darling through and through, the twelve-track album explored a sound beyond metal that few if any bands could match – then and now. Over the course of their sixteen-year career, Baroness have transcended multiple styles ranging from sludge to proggy psychedelics while maintaining the aggressive sincerity that’s attracted so many passionate fans. Never a band to rest on its laurels, the Savannah, Georgia quartet once again look to reinvent their sound and re-contextualize what a metal record can be with their boldest and most triumphant effort yet – Gold & Grey.
The list of accolades that Bastille have accrued over just three studio albums is what most bands can only dream of when they start their career. With over 9 million records sold to date, several number one singles, and many major music awards added to their impressive resume, Bastille should be able to kick back and celebrate a bit. Coming off of a successful sophomore effort in Wild World, that was packed with content surrounding the changing world around us, political ramifications, and dense metaphors about how the world as we knew it was spiraling out of control, it only made sense for their follow-up to be called Doom Days.
The hype surrounding this particular release was at an all-time high due to the success of their Top 40 crossover smash with collaborator Marshmello in “Happier.” Everything was lining up perfectly for Bastille to deliver their landmark album in their discography since they appeared to have so much going in their favor. Doom Days chronicles their rise to fame, as well as what the band described in a recent interview as a loose concept album regarding “the importance of escapism, hope and the preciousness of close friendships.”
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.
New wave emerged in popular music during the late 1970s and reached maximum popularity in the early 1980s. Icons of the genre, such as Blondie and Talking Heads, grasped the sunnier side of pop music while adopting sensibilities of punk. In the 2000s, bands like The Killers, The Strokes, and Interpol were seemingly reviving post-punk/new wave, largely in thanks to their hugely melodic pop songs contrasted with themes of disillusionment and heartache. Now, Parquet Courts and Public Practice have taken the mantle of Talking Heads-esque post-punk, Preoccupations fill the art-punk void, but where’s the poppier side of the spectrum?
Enter Lust for Youth, the Danish new wave duo comprised of Hannes Norrvide and Malthe Fischer. Their new eponymously titled album presents eight tracks ready to be consumed on the dance floor. Seamlessly integrating contemplative balladry and voyaging through 90s Europop, Lust for Youth have crafted a superb collection of tracks that rightfully likens them to legendary new wave acts New Order and Depeche Mode.
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.
Expectations can mess with your mind as a music fan. We all have favorite bands, but there’s a weird sort of contradiction where those favorite bands are also the ones most likely to disappoint us. Hearing a new record from an unfamiliar artist and having it blow the doors off your mind is a wonderful kind of madness, but it’s also impossible to replicate. Loving an album means accumulating baggage with it—the baggage of years and memories and emotions entwined with the songs. When the next album from that same band comes along, it’s easy to feel let down. Even if the record is good—even if it’s great—expecting it to recapture the magic of the first time is a recipe for disappointment. Virtually every band or artist that has ever made a beloved album contends with this cycle eventually, and it’s part of the reason why most bands don’t last very long. It’s also why maybe the only thing more exciting than having that lightning bolt moment with a new band is hearing one of your favorite artists raise the bar, change the game, and shatter every expectation you had of what their music could sound like, circa right now.
Mother Nature, the fifth LP from The Dangerous Summer, is that kind of album. It takes a band that previously felt like a faded version of its glory days and breathes immense new life into their sound. It makes you excited for this band again, and for what their path might look like going forward. It creates spine-tingling moments of pure catharsis, but in a different way than this band did on their previous beloved albums, 2009’s Reach for the Sun and 2011’s War Paint. And it immediately makes reservations for whole lot of windows-down, sunny-day drives this summer. It’s the right album, at the right time, from a band a lot of people had written off or counted out. And it feels fucking great.
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.
Alex Lahey ‘s brand new album, The Best Of Luck Club, couldn’t come at a better time. Released on the eve of the Australian federal election, Lahey confronts the pains of millennial struggles through her universal approach to songwriting. She seamlessly integrates the personal and couples it with anthemic, searing pop-punk melodies. Like her stunning debut, I Love You Like A Brother, Lahey demonstrates that she holds numerous smashing hooks under her belt. The Best Of Luck Club picks up where Lahey left off, but races forward. There’s more ballads, unexpected instrumentation, and the lyricism we’ve come to know, and love is even greater.
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.
It’s funny the way that albums can mark time. How hearing the right songs at the right moment can make them sound like more than songs, or how going back to those songs after 10 or 15 or 20 years can reawaken every feeling you had when you first heard them. It’s funny, too, how the music that does those things to you might not do anything for anyone else. How something can be an incredibly meaningful and important document of your past, but just sound run-of-the-mill to someone else. Or how, if you’d heard an album a decade or a year or six months too early or too late, it might just be a footnote in your musical history rather than a symphony.
No album has ever taken me more by surprise than The Dangerous Summer ‘s Reach for the Sun. I didn’t see it coming, and I wasn’t looking for it. I had no knowledge of the band or their past work, no clue what they sounded like or what their songs might have to say about my life. I just read a rave review of the album one day on AbsolutePunk and decided to give it a shot. Ten years later, those songs still shoot shivers down my spine and choke me up, because they sound like the cusp of adulthood, and like all the friends and memories I’ve left behind in the past decade.
Reach for the Sun had remarkable timing. Its release date was May 5, 2009, just as spring was bursting into full, glorious bloom. I first heard it on May 3, in the early evening, coming out of old boombox speakers in my bedroom, with the gentle glow of the sunset streaming through my window. The day before, my sister had graduated from college. In another month, I’d graduate from high school. My parents and I had driven home, from Ann Arbor to Traverse City, that afternoon. I had a boatload of calculus homework to do and was dreading the evening. AP exams were just days away, and I needed to buckle down and focus. Certainly, I knew I needed a good soundtrack for the study session. So I downloaded this record on the recommendation of a glowing 95 percent review from Blake Solomon and loaded it onto my iPod.
In 1991, on Fugazi’s ‘Stacks,’ Ian MacKaye sang, ‘America is just a word but I use it.’ Minor Threat, the hardcore band that MacKaye was best known for before Fugazi, didn’t deal with concepts like that; theirs were personal politics, the friends who had betrayed you or the assholes who pissed you off. Their outlook was rigid, little nuance or philosophical thought, and the standard template for hardcore remains as such. MacKaye grew tired of hardcore before long, though, of its violence and rigidity. Fugazi, in a lot of ways, was an anti-hardcore band. Their rich and complex musicality couldn’t be further from Minor Threat’s fast, loud and sloppy approach, and their lyrics offered political and social commentary that was intelligent and nuanced. It was post-hardcore.
On ‘Birds of Paradise,’ a track halfway through Fury’s Failed Entertainment, vocalist Jeremy Stith declares, ‘US of A, just an idea to me.’ Fugazi’s semantics are echoed, but the similarity stretches further than that; this too is a record that reaches beyond what hardcore tends to be. The crucial difference is that Failed Entertainment is, unmistakably and proudly, a hardcore record.
You Swear It’s Getting Better Every Day feels to me like the sort of album that, were it released two decades ago, would net Kayak Jones the legacy of a band like Name Taken. Perhaps not appreciated in their time, but considered a classic in retrospect. Like Name Taken, Kayak Jones is ultimately a pop-punk band, although with a heavy dose of emo influence. While they aren’t the first to play the style, and won’t be the last, they do so in a way that feels refreshing.
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.
Now that the NBA Playoffs have begun, Elevated: The Global Rise of the NBA arrives at the perfect time. The book takes a look at the history of the league through the lens of the New York Times writers who have covered the sports over the decades, as edited and annotated by Harvey Araton. Due to the nature of the book, you won’t find one specific writing style throughout. Although, there’s a high level of quality to the writing and you get a look at how the writers have changed their approach to covering the sport as new things like social media came into play.
Since I’m someone who doesn’t have a subscription to the New York Times, I otherwise would not have been able to read many of these articles. It’s an excellent chance for NBA fans to get a look into how devoted one publication was to covering a variety of teams, not just the ones in the New York area. You’ll find articles from the 1970s, to ones as recent as 2018, and everything in between. However, don’t expect the story to unfold in chronological order.