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.
Six months ago Petrov was just a group of musicians connected through Craigslist. Now, this week they’re releasing one of 2019’s more impressive debuts in the form of the Sleep Year EP. Musically, they’re the sort of band that would immediately be labeled “emo” were they from Philadelphia (they hail from Charlotte, NC), and likely only really out of laziness. Their sound is admittedly fairly unique, mixing influences from pop, indie rock, and punk to create a synthesis that captures the best aspects of each.
The first time I heard Maren Morris, I knew she was a superstar.
It didn’t matter that the only music from her on Spotify was a five-song EP, or that her breakout single “My Church” was still months away from actually breaking. It only took one listen to the luxury-car-sized hook on “80s Mercedes” for me to know that Maren would eventually be all over the radio. It was only a matter of time.
Fast forward three and a half years and Maren Morris is a veritable household name. Her debut album Hero was one of the biggest crossover country LPs of the decade. She scored a number one country hit with “I Could Use a Love Song.” She guested on smashes by Thomas Rhett (a country star) and Niall Horan (a pop star), and even opened for Horan on a massive-venue tour. And then, in 2018, she did what none of her country star contemporaries this side of Taylor Swift have done: she scored a number one hit on the pop charts.
“The Middle,” a collab between Morris, record producer Zedd, and the duo Grey, was an odd coming-out party for Maren. On the one hand, her powerhouse vocal is the thing that really sells the song—which, as written, is serviceable but not great. On the other side, Morris was hitting the big time on a pop song that she hadn’t had a hand in writing—not what you’d expect from a Texas country girl who cut her teeth writing songs for other artists in Nashville.
Unsurprisingly, the song forced a debate: would Maren Morris stick around in country music, or would she follow Taylor Swift’s footsteps and pivot into pop? GIRL, her long-awaited sophomore LP, splits the difference in how it answers that question. If you’re a die-hard country fan, it probably sounds like a pop record. If you spend most of your time listening to Top 40, you’ll hear plenty of country elements in the songs—especially the first half.
Three years ago, Oliver Kalb chronicled the drawn-out end of a friendship in vivid detail on his band Bellows’ very good third album, Fist & Palm. Its 11 tracks acting like snapshots into the gradual descent of the relationship. Shortly after that record released the 2016 election happened, and Kalb found himself demoralized by the state of things and perplexed by the constant judgment woven within today’s society. Out of that isolation grew the inspiration for Bellows’ stunning Topshelf debut, The Rose Gardener. The metaphor – a gardener tending to a single rosebush in the dead of winter – defies what most observers would deem futile and explores the thorns to see what might still be living on the other side. Kalb is channeling all that pain from the past few years into something a bit more constructive, resembling a glimmer of optimism amongst all the struggle.
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.
When New Found Glory broke into the mainstream in the early 2000s, it certainly wasn’t amongst a shortage of pop-punk bands. The post-Blink boom meant that for a few years, every bunch of spiky-haired kids in Dickies was getting picked up by a major and amassing radio and MTV coverage. But what always set New Found Glory apart from their Warped Tour ilk was their genuine connection to heavy music. A teenaged Chad Gilbert was the vocalist for metalcore legends Shai Hulud before he was New Found Glory’s guitarist, and where other pop-punk bands of the time were taking influence from the likes of Descendents and Screeching Weasel, NFG were drawing more from East Coast hardcore like Madball and Snapcase. They positioned NYHC guitar tones as the backdrop to sickly-sweet pop vocals, and mastered both elements better than any of their peers could.
This distinction set New Found Glory up for longevity that outlasted pop punk’s commercial day in the sun, and such longevity makes inevitable – and perhaps relies on – a change in course. So in 2006, while bands like Midtown and Fenix TX had dissolved around them, New Found Glory released their fifth album Coming Home. It swapped the crunchy riffs for mid-tempo soft rock more comparable to, say, Journey than to their heavy early influences. It was a smart move, with pop-punk by now commercially dead in the water as emo-pop took its place, and one that paid off too; it was likely better received critically than any of their records prior.
Pressing play on Nude Shoes’ debut EP Suburban Ceremonies feels like stepping back in time. It’s pop-punk in the vein of Dive-Thru Records, overlapping less with contemporaries than with older bands like Allister or even No Use for a Name. It ends up, as a result, feeling a good deal fresher than much of what the genre produces these days.
“You say it’s a good thing that you float in the air/That way, there’s no way I will crush your pretty toenails into a thousand pieces.”
Thus ends “Only in Dreams,”the closing track of Weezer’s 1994 debut Weezer (The Blue Album). Over time, and within the context of the song, these are words written about a girl so unforgettable, so unavoidable, that she is in the air and “in your bones.” (She’s also your ride home.) But the first time I heard this song – sometime around 2005 when I was 11 – I had absolutely no idea what those lyrics meant. I only knew that they were perfect, sounding suitably epic against the song’s explosive eight minutes.
Now, 13 studio albums into their career, fans and critics alike are still picking at Rivers Cuomo’s words as if they’re enough to justify ostracizing the band for another quarter century. Besides, they’re complete nonsense. Didn’t you read that piece about his spreadsheets? Each song is constructed to give the impression of a singular idea, but in reality, none of the words were actually written to go together. It’s all meaningless.
Julia Jacklin doesn’t want to be the type of artist that preaches to her listeners. Her sophomore album, fittingly titled Crushing, is full of dialogues that Jacklin herself has with her family and friends. Crushing is a story, one where the Sydney-based artist discusses her bodily autonomy. Don’t Let The Kids Win, Jacklin’s 2016 debut album, was existential but sometimes unsure. Now, she’s self-assured. She’s finding space for herself in a cluttered indie rock scene. With only two albums under her belt, Julia Jacklin is already rising as one of Australia’s finest songwriters.
Love is weird, messy, complicated. I know I’m not saying anything incredibly new or profound – we’ve all experienced the whirlwind of falling in and out of love. And sometimes at such an intensity that it feels like you’re dreaming. Copeland’s sixth album, Blushing, explores that sensation thoroughly and almost immediately on the album’s startling opener, “Pope.” Vocalist Aaron Marsh pleads, “Will you be my love?/Until I can prove that this world is not real,” over a swirling cacophony of swirling strings, programming, and more. Suddenly everything drops – it’s just distant piano keys and a women’s hushed voice. Without warning, it’s over. The track is a brilliant juxtaposition between the beginning of a relationship (“Did you dream about anything last night?” is something said during the beginning or good times of a relationship because you want to know everything about your partner) and the end of a relationship (“Hey, hey, are you awake? You should probably get up and get going. I don’t want to be rushed”) – when the women’s voice appears it’s jarring because it’s so comforting, reminding you of that good place you were once at but ultimately it’s a devastating reminder that it’s over.
Jetty Bones’ last release, 2017’s Old Women EP, was a bright burst of pop-rock. The band has described it as “a story of progress, growth, and the development of human connection,” and its optimistic message was certainly matched by its jaunty sound. - (pronounced “hyphen”) is the follow-up to Old Women, and the band has – called a more “brisk, contemplative” EP.
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.
Montreal-based singer-songwriter Peter Sagar formed his solo project, Homeshake, after leaving Mac DeMarco’s live band in 2014. Sagar found himself fatigued and “at a creative dead-end” with guitar, in turn constructing luscious bedroom-pop and lo-fi R&B. The fourth album under the Homeshake moniker, Helium, out today, is a superb showcase of an artist rebuffing the usual pigeonholes in genres, textures, and soundscapes.
Coming off of a brilliant debut record called Vital, Morgxn has come back with an equally impressive “stripped” EP of the strongest selections from the debut into re-imagined tracks in Vital : Blue. It’s on this EP that Morgan Karr showcases his staying power as an Indie Pop artist with no other distractions besides a piano, carefully placed string sections, and his powerful voice.
For as long as I can recall, A Day to Remember have been that strange mixture of incredibly divisive and inarguably popular within the scene. Being a (female) ADTR fan in 2009 looked like this: If people (let’s be real; mostly men) weren’t calling you “soft” for liking the band to begin with, they were heavily implying that you only liked the ~pretty~ tracks, like “If It Means a Lot to You” or “Have Faith In Me” (which are both bangers, by the way). The band apparently were too hardcore for the pop punk bros, and too pop punk for the hardcore kids. To put a finer and entirely subjective point on that observation: then as now, both the pop-punk and hardcore purists were enraged by a band that refuses to call themselves either, yet excels at both. When Homesick dropped ten years ago, I was a senior in high school. While they weren’t my absolute favorite band, they were up there. I wasn’t writing about music yet at the time, but I loved the record. Upon listening as a fully formed adult ten years later, my opinion remains largely unchanged.
On their third album, Seasons, American Authors crank up the volume and soul in a glossy effort that is arguably their strongest album to date. The band, best known for the Top-40 single “Best Day of My Life,” showcases their staying power in the ever-crowded Indie Rock genre. Under the careful tutelage of veteran producers Cason Cooley (Ingrid Michaelson) and Trent Dabbs (Kacey Musgraves), the two co-producers bring out the best in the Brooklyn-based band.
Folk-tinged indie rock is renowned for beautiful lyrics, intricate melodies, and stunning collaborations. It’s a style that’s held the spotlight inside indie circles for years, with good reason. Current stars such as Sharon Van Etten released her fifth album; Remind Me Tomorrow, just weeks ago. Van Etten goes for soul-crushing while experimenting with haunting, cinematic synth-led tracks. Last year’s For My Crimes by Marissa Nadler is equally haunting, albeit in much more subtle light. Just last week, Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst teamed up as Better Oblivion Community Center, delivering their intimate debut album that showcases both of their unique types of storytelling. Here enters Tiny Ruins, originally a moniker for New Zealand singer-songwriter Hollie Fullbrook.
Subsequent to the release of debut full-length, Some Were Meant For Sea, in 2011, Tiny Ruins opened for Fleet Foxes and toured internationally with Beach House. Cass Basil (bass) and Alexander Freer (drums) later made Tiny Ruins an ensemble, in turn recording the second album, Brightly Painted One, in 2014. Tiny Ruins were bestowed Best Alternative Album for Brightly Painted One at the New Zealand Music Awards in late 2014. Tiny Ruins wistful new album, Olympic Girls, out today, is the next big indie folk album of 2019.
The internet giveth and the internet taketh away.
Late last May, a 14-year-old Twitter user created an account dedicated to getting Weezer, now uniquely divisive in this stage of their career, to cover “Africa,” Toto’s 1982 hit and a resurging meme in the same lineage of Smash Mouth’s “All-Star” and Owl City’s “Fireflies.” Now, eight months later, the cultural tides have shifted. “Africa” has been viciously chewed up and spit out by the merciless internet machine, largely due to the outrageous popularity that accompanied Weezer’s studio cover. The song peaked number one on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart, the band’s first number one hit since 2007’s “Pork and Beans.” The band closed shows with it, made a bizarre, self-referential music video starring Weird Al for it, and even teased the song’s release with a superior cover of another Toto single, “Rosanna.”
In less than a year, “Africa” became the sort of meme your family would recognize or bring up in casual conversation, essentially nullifying the status it once held and finalizing its new residence in the lexicon’s void.