Review: AJR – The Maybe Man

There’s something to be said for a band who knows how to make a well-crafted, thought out, and carefully mapped out  album. AJR may have just made their early-career masterpiece on The Maybe Man, a record that is brimming with purpose, an ultra-personal touch, and better structurally organized than any of their previous four LPs. The Maybe Man finds the three brothers (Adam, Jack & Ryan Met) at a crossroads: they’ve just made their most commercially and critically successful record in 2021’s Ok Orchestra, the band recently announced their first arena tour, and yet the material found on this record is dripping with self-doubt. For a band that got famous with songs like “Bang!” “Weak” and the ultra-viral “World’s Smallest Violin,” the opening song/title track finds lead singer, Jack pondering vulnerably, “Wish I was a stone so I couldn’t feel / You’d yell in my face, it’d be no big deal / But I’d miss the way we make up and smile / Don’t wanna be stone, I changed my mind,” while getting into heavier material (lyrically) with “God Is Really Real” that comes to terms with their father, Gary’s, untimely passing. As close as I am to my dad, I can’t imagine going through life without my own mentor, and I commend AJR for tackling this concept head on with grace on The Maybe Man.

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Review: Daniel Donato – Reflector

The sophomore set from alt-country up-and-comer Daniel Donato, called Reflector, is a colorful collection of songs that are brimming with lush textures and shimmering guitars. From the vibrant opening bars of the song “Lose Your Mind” to the closing, near 6-minute opus of “Dance in the Desert Pt. 2,” Donato leaves his musical blueprint all over this record that showcases his unmistakable talent. The Nashville-based singer/songwriter describes his new record as “Cosmic Country” and it fits well within the same realm of artists like The Lumineers, Lord Huron, and the crisp ,country twang of Zac Brown Brand. When speaking on his new LP, Donato shared, “I think ‘Cosmic Country’ is a tale as old as time, really. It’s yin and yang in a musical form. It’s three chords and the truth, and then on the other side it’s exploration and bravery. I really went through a lot of years of grinding, and still am, to achieve this sound which is a vehicle for my personality, and the personality is a vehicle for my soul. So (Reflector) is more that than any other record I ever put out.” Daniel Donato is quickly climbing the ladder of notoriety on Reflector.

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Review: Blink-182 – [Untitled]

It really does feel like yesterday that I was just unwrapping the CD of this Blink-182 classic, known to many as their [Untitled} fifth effort, and grinning ear to ear about the sound that was about to surround me for the next two-plus years of a standard album cycle. Little did I know, this would be the last studio album Blink-182 would record for eight (!) years, until they returned with 2011’s Neighborhoods. This studio effort was a flawless execution of slick pop-punk hooks, experimental rock, hip-hop beats, and a top-notch collaborative song with The Cure’s Robert Smith. While some longtime Blink fans were disappointed with the final result of this record (that succeeded the bulletproof pop-punk classic, Take Off Your Pants & Jacket), almost all of these fans now point to this album as a seismic shift in the band’s songwriting and offered glimpses as to where they would take their sound for the foreseeable future. This fifth LP was produced by Jerry Finn, and it would also end up being their longest album to date, clocking in at a little over the 49-minute mark. Mark Hoppus, Tom DeLonge and Travis Barker should be looking back fondly on this momentous album today that would find Blink-182 breaking down the silos of what a pop-punk band should sound like, and blow the doors off the hinges in the process.

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Interview: Sam Harris of X Ambassadors

X Ambassadors

Recently I was able to schedule a Zoom call with Sam Harris, the lead singer of X Ambassadors, to check in about the band’s latest single called “Alcohol.” I also asked Sam about his creative songwriting process for writing for X Ambassadors as well as stepping out into his recent solo work, and artists in the scene that he and his bandmates admire. X Ambassadors will be finalizing plans for their new album soon.

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Review: Social Distortion – Mommy’s Little Monster

Time just keeps marching on, doesn’t it? When Social Distortion released their debut LP, Mommy’s Little Monster, in June (the exact date couldn’t be pinned down) of 1983, it signaled an energetic movement in the SoCal punk scene. The most “traditional” of punk records in Social Distortion’s storied discography, Mommy’s Little Monster, is an adrenaline shot to the hip of slick guitar-driven hooks, paired with vocalist/guitarist Mike Ness’s trademark growl. The LP has been passionately restored to notoriety by Craft Recordings and their 40th anniversary vinyl reissue that hit stores today. The album features quick punk rock songs like “The Creeps (I Just Wanna Give You)” that while they seem raw on the surface, are packed with some breadcrumbs of where Social Distortion would take their sound for the next 40-plus years. The only single to be released, “Another State of Mind,” still finds its way into Social D’s setlist from time to time, and remains a punk scene favorite. Mommy’s Little Monster plays out like a band gaining their footing in the exploding punk scene of the early 80’s and still holds up to this day.

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Review: Broadside – Hotel Bleu

Usually when you check into a new hotel, it has a funny way of changing your outlook and mindset for the days to come. Whether it’s settling down in a hotel for a vacation, work trip, or just a weekend getaway, these places tend to have their own unique personality attached to them. Broadside have this concept well on the top of their mind on their fourth full-length record, called Hotel Bleu. The interesting thing about this album is that it finds Broadside tinkering with their sound and exploring the depths of their songwriting. While their last effort, Into The Raging Sea, took listeners on a journey through the darkest of thoughts, Hotel Bleu may just be the polar opposite. The latest LP by Broadside (Oliver Baxxter [vocals], Domenic Reid [guitar], and Patrick Diaz [bass]) is vibrant, lush, and as colorful as the name implies.

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Interview: Lily Meola

Lily Meola

Recently I was able to connect with Lily Meola for a Zoom interview to discuss her uplifting new single called “Without You.” I asked Lily about her music upbringing, how she stays motivated as an artist, how she measures success as well as her breakthrough single “Daydream,” and what next year has in store for her promising musical career.

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Interview: Cold War Kids

Cold War Kids

Recently I was able to schedule a Zoom call with lead vocalist Nathan Willett, of Cold War Kids, to discuss the band’s latest self-titled album that dropped today. In this interview, I asked Nathan about how the band goes about crafting a setlist at this point in their career, the key upcoming album anniversary plans, and Nathan offered some great nuggets of information about the band’s songwriting approach. Cold War Kids self-titled album can be purchased/streamed here.

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Review: Taking Back Sunday – 152

There’s a lot to be said when a band takes a hiatus, re-shuffles their lineup, or just takes a breather to reset their focus on their music. 152 is the first album by Taking Back Sunday in seven years (with their last effort coming in 2016’s Tidal Wave), and arguably their best one yet. The album anniversaries of Tell All Your Friends and the upcoming 20-year mark of Where You Want To Be may have had a hand in TBS re-focusing their attention on their songwriting craft. There is also something to be said of the magic that happens when lead vocalist Adam Lazzara and guitarist John Nolan get in a room together to pen songs. 152 is a career-spanning love letter to the legacy Taking Back Sunday have built over their eight-album tenure, and they show no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

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Review: Crossing I’s Dotting T’s – I Used To Be

The debut LP by rock band Crossing I’s Dotting T’s is a grunge-filled love letter to bands like Deftones, Alice in Chains, and Stone Temple Pilots. I Used To Be has a variety of song types, and more often than not, it hits its intended target. When I last sat down with the lead vocalist from the band, I could tell that his core influences would likely bleed into the band’s debut album. From the soft-loud dynamic found on a Deftones-esque track, called “Far Away,” to the collaborative single with Have Mercy on “Cheap Beers & IOUs,” Crossing I’s Dotting T’s make a memorable first step in the music scene.

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Review: Boys Like Girls – Sunday At Foxwoods

The momentum that Boys Like Girls had going into their fourth studio album, Sunday At Foxwoods, was probably a bit more positive than the band could’ve expected. Having not released any music as a band since 2012, Boys Like Girls could’ve gone in a number of ways, creatively. The Night Game was keeping lead vocalist Martin Johnson busy with a project after Boys Like Girls went on a hiatus, and this 2023 version of the band feels like a marrying of styles and sounds between everything the band members have done (both as solo artists, and as a creative unit). Sunday At Foxwoods is a thrilling return to form for a band that found some early success with their self-titled debut, peaked commercially with Love Drunk (that had a key song feature with a young artist known as Taylor Swift), and they experienced some creative growing pains on Crazy World. The vinyl reissues of Boys Like Girls and Love Drunk seemed to reinvigorate fan interest in the band’s fourth studio album, known as Sunday At Foxwoods, that is kicking off the next phase of this talented pop-rock band.

After a brief, atmospheric introductory song on the title track, Boys Like Girls rock with veteran poise on “The Outside.” It features a stomping, anthemic chorus of, “It’s okay, it’s alright / Baby welcome to life on the outside / Sleep all day, ride all night / Yeah we’re living it up on the outside,” that reminds longtime fans of the band of the magic that happens when these four musicians get together to create music. While longtime lead guitarist Paul DiGiovanni is no longer a part of the band, Jamel Hawke does the band justice by taking over the reins on guitar.

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Chase Tremaine – Accidental Days (Deluxe Edition) Track-by-Track

Chase Tremaine

This past week, I was able to chat with Chase Tremaine to discuss his deluxe reissue of Accidental Days. The deluxe edition of the album has been re-released today on Bandcamp, and it features ten new bonus tracks, plus commentary on the ten main album songs. I continue to be impressed by Chase’s extensive work ethic, and I hope this track-by-track sheds some light on his creative process.

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Review: The Format – Interventions + Lullabies

How does one begin to encapsulate the meteoric rise of lead vocalist Nate Ruess’s career? Like most stories, you start at the very beginning. The Format (Nate Ruess and multi-instrumentalist Sam Means) formed in February 2002, and while their friendship goes as far back as grade school, their band chemistry was felt almost immediately. That electric-charged feeling of when a group of talented musicians come together to make art was felt far and wide in The Format. I first got wind of this band when they opened up for Jimmy Eat World and Paramore, and I found their charming mix of emo, pop, and Beach Boys-esque melodies to be immediately infectious. The Format was signed to Elektra Records for what would become their debut LP, Interventions + Lullabies, and much like many other major label artists during this period of time, the merging of record companies led to conflicts on whom the executives found worth pushing on radio, MTV, etc. The Format were ultimately left on the outside looking in when Warner Brothers (and finally Atlantic Records) had the rights to the band’s music. “The First Single” was the only song to be promoted during this album cycle, and it would remain a staple in the band’s set until their breakup in 2008.

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Review: Mansions – Tuff Luff

You know a band means something to you when you can remember your first time hearing them.

The first time I heard Mansions, I was a junior in high school working at our local supermarket. About once a week, my older brother (forever shaman of my music tastes) would load up whatever he was listening to on my iPod so I would have new music for bus rides and the lunch breaks where I’d step outside and smoke cigarettes bought for me by a friend. To this day, the songs I associate with that first job – and much of my junior and senior years of high school – are Mansions’, a band skilled at capturing the whirlwind of youthful emotions I was experiencing at the time. 

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Review: PHNTMS – “Lost On Your Love”

The latest single from synth-rock band, PHNTMS, is a great blast of new wave energy, paired with vibrant guest vocals from April Rose Gabrielli. “Lost On Your Love” features the trademark picturesque guitar playing from Adam Jessamine, in a style similar to bands like The 1975 and The Aces, and he commands the song throughout the inner-workings on the synth-laden track. Gabrielli is a nice choice for guest vocals on this single that is lyrically based on the feeling of falling head over heels in love, and the bliss that comes with it.

PHNTMS continue to expand their great repertoire on their latest release, and show no signs of slowing down anytime soon. While the band has largely been releasing singles to keep interest high in their brand of synth-rock, I would personally love to see how they would package a few songs together in a cohesive work of art in the form of an album, or at least an EP. For now, songs like “Lost On Your Love” remind us of why bands like PHNTMS are a rare breed.