AFI have never been strangers to the darker side of things, as clearly evident from the shadowy packaging and artwork of their latest EP, The Missing Man. However, what I’ve always admired about this band is the silver linings found in their music. After releasing arguably their darkest-toned LP to date in 2013’s Burials, they followed this effort with 2017’s AFI: The Blood Album, an album that incorporated many of their past styles into a single record. On this EP, AFI has found a way to pay homage to the path they blazed before, while still adding new elements to their trademark sound.
As I sit here looking at a blank page, pondering about how I’m going to approach writing about The 1975’s gargantuan third album, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, I turn to my dear friend procrastination and flick open Twitter on my iPhone. After a few minutes of scrolling through an endless timeline, disgusted and amused simultaneously, I had the belated (and probably way too obvious) realization that A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is an exploration of our codependency of the things – whether it’s drugs, sex, the internet – we use to temporarily numb the sting of loneliness.
Much has been written about The 1975’s leader Matty Healy decision to spend six weeks in a rehab facility in Barbados to fight his addiction to heroin – a stint that helped Healy reflect not only on his life, but the lives he was affecting. His decision to get clean came shortly after the band started writing A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, so unsurprising a lot of the lyrical content is derived from the recovering addict’s time spent in therapy.
On William Ryan Key’s second solo EP, Virtue, he continues to stretch out his sound and repertoire with one of the better singer-songwriter works of art to date. While Thirteen was primarily based around the acoustic guitar, Key uses a fair amount of piano, electric guitar, and percussion on this recording to fill out the expansive sound that he was likely going for.
“The Same Destination” cuts through the opening bars of faint strings with carefully struck piano chords that help set the table for another brilliant showing from the former Yellowcard front-man. The wall of sound that opens this track features some more electric guitar elements that were missing on his previous EP and serves as a nice opening for the record. “Mortar and Stone” follows the tender opening with some intricately played acoustic guitar and layered vocals from Key. Key’s confidence broods throughout this EP that he self-described on his website as an “exploration of a new sound” and “evolution.” I concur with his line of thinking, as William Ryan Key has delivered another collection of songs worthy of his underrated legacy.
The drought is over, and Rita Ora is back with a shower of blessings in the form of new music. It’s been more than six years since the release of her debut album, ORA which gained the attention of several music fans in the world. With songs like “How We Do (Party),” “R.I.P,” and “Fall in Love” it was like love at first listening for pop fans. Since then, she has released impactful singles like “Let You Down,” “Poison” and “Body On Me” that made fans thirst for another album. Unfortunately, the legal tussle with her previous record label, Roc Nation stopped this from happening.
Synth lovers, rejoice! Muse have crafted a powerhouse of a record in Simulation Theory that is one of the more immediately gratifying albums to date. From the futuristic artwork that could easily be mistaken for the poster art of the next Blade Runner film, Muse has their sights set on making everything that they have alluded to in the past few efforts bigger and brighter.
From the dramatic introductory track, “Algorithm” sets the stage perfectly for a thrilling ride of an album. Lead singer and guitarist Matt Bellamy opens the set by singing, “Burn like a slave/Churn like a cog/We are caged in simulations/Algorithms evolve/Push us aside and render us obsolete.” Bellamy and company have never been strangers to using samples and synths to enhance their sound, but on Simulation Theory, they ultimately went for everything that they had been hinting at over the past few LPs.
The warm jangle-pop of U.S. Highball is refreshing. Think Again, the duo’s first EP, almost feels like a lost tape from the ’90s recently discovered and released today. It’s saccharine and sincere in a way that indie pop rarely seems to be anymore; not to mention that it’s also extremely catchy.
The New Hampshire post-metal trio, Girih, are here with their debut EP, Eigengrau, and it channels several key influences of similar “math rock” bands such as Thrice. The dark tones found throughout this EP mesh well with the variety of riffs and noises on this debut. The major disclaimer for this EP is that it is instrumental only, but there are plenty of redeeming qualities to find on this record.
I believe “What the hell happened?” was my first reaction upon hearing Day & Age, the third album from The Killers, for the first time. This record didn’t compute for me. It was bizarre and misshapen, a mess of ideas that never coalesced into anything that made sense as a unified work of art. It sounded to me, on first listen, like a B-sides record. If The Killers hadn’t released an actual B-sides collection just a year before, I might have wondered if the band just gotten lazy and pulled out some ideas they’d shelved for earlier records. But apparently Day & Age was the statement the band really wanted to make at that time, and what an odd statement it was.
Gang Of Youths are Australia’s biggest success story in years. The Sydney-based band formed in 2012 and has enjoyed a steady stream of success, be it selling out larger and larger venues or recipients of critical acclaim. Flash forward to now, when Gang Of Youths had to announce a whopping 21 dates (all sold-out) for their Say Yes To Life Tour, with eight sold-out dates at Melbourne’s iconic Forum Theatre alone. Last year, the band received seven ARIA award nominations for their brilliant #1 album, Go Farther In Lightness. They won four of them (Album Of The Year, Best Group, Best Rock Album, and Producer of The Year – for Gang Of Youths & Adrian Breakspear). They even supported the mighty Foo Fighters for seven nights in the US during the band’s Concrete and Gold Tour last month! So, Gang Of Youths’ Say Yes To Life Tour is a big deal; for the band and their loyal, growing fan-base. It’s an absolute triumph: a homecoming for our dearest indie rock band, and a celebration of positivity and growth.
When Andrew McMahon announced his new LP, Upside Down Flowers, he referred to the album’s producer, Butch Walker, as a “fellow traveler.” That word choice was fitting, because if one word could describe McMahon over the 20 years that have so far encompassed his career, “traveler” is it. McMahon has made a lot of types of records over the years. He’s made emo-flecked piano rock records and sunny pop-punk records. He’s made Americana-influenced road trip records and towering stadium pop records. He’s made records about California and records about New York. He made one of the ultimate records about living young and free, followed by a record about almost dying young. He’s traversed a lot of territory over the course of eight LPs and three very distinct chapters. But he’s never made a record quite like Upside Down Flowers before, a record that is, ostensibly, about a traveler looking back and taking stock of where he’s been so far.
Upside Down Flowers is the most outwardly nostalgic album that McMahon has ever made. He’s written about the past before, but never in such detail or with such a storyteller’s eye. The first song on the album is called “Teenage Rockstars,” and it’s an unabashed tribute to McMahon’s bandmates from the Something Corporate days. The second song is called “Ohio,” and it vividly recounts the drive that transplanted his family from Ohio to the west coast—right down to the band that was playing on the car stereo. Listening to these songs feels like sitting next to McMahon on a couch, flipping through a photo album of old polaroids and hearing him recount the adventures and misadventures depicted in each. It’s a kind of intimacy we haven’t heard from him before.
One year ago, Taylor Swift’s somewhat infamous LP Reputation hit the shelves and digital libraries of 700,000 listeners. It would go on to sell 1.26 million copies in that first week, making it a member of an elite club of albums to have broken a million copies (at all, let alone that first week) in the last decade… a club that is mostly comprised of Swift’s other records. It was an auspicious achievement in the pop star’s increasingly controversial career – every album she’s released since 2008’s Fearless has broken a million records sold in its first week.
Swift has become a polarizing figure in the pop culture sphere. Between the ongoing Kimye saga, 100% valid conversation and critiques about the downfalls of white feminism, her own personal #MeToo moment and the usual, misogyny-fueled obsession with her love life that’s been prominent since that first record broke a million all those years ago. (She has arguably used that obsession to her advantage in the years since, but… wouldn’t you?) The stage was certainly set for Reputation to be as polarizing as the woman herself – it was the first Swift record that broke her every-other-year-pattern ever, and followed a nearly year-long (and highly advisable) social media hiatus/blackout on Swift’s part. It’s safe to say, nobody knew what to expect; uncommonly for an artist whose unflinchingly loyal following was built on the closeness she shares with her fanbase, “nobody” included the vast majority of her fans.
When looking for adjectives to describe Coheed and Cambria and their latest effort, The Unheavenly Creatures, I kept going back to the same word: epic. Coheed have never been strangers to expanding their repertoire of complex space odysseys and intermingled stories of fictional characters, but on this LP they have genuinely created something quite remarkable.
This album grabs your interest directly from the first notes of “Prologue” that sets that stage for all that will come next in this saga. From the shiny and brilliant packaging of the entire album and its artwork, it’s hard not to get directly sucked into the vortex of Coheed’s world on this fantastic record.
Few albums can put a smile on my face as quickly as Sycamore Meadows.
That’s probably an odd thing to say, since Sycamore Meadows is not, by most metrics, a happy album. Butch Walker’s fourth solo LP was birthed in part from the California wildfires that destroyed his home, most of his possessions, and the master tapes for every song he’d ever recorded up to that point. The songs catalog breakups, painful journeys of self-discovery, and the record business being irreversibly fucked. The album’s last track is a sobering piano ballad that bears one of the most emotional vocal performances Butch ever put on tape.
And yet, Sycamore Meadows still makes me smile.
On the latest solo effort from John Nolan, Abendigo, he continues to stretch the boundaries and imaginations of what a record can be, with very favorable results. Giving the production reins to the trusted tutelage of Mike Sapone (Taking Back Sunday, Mayday Parade), Nolan delivers a terrific LP sure to tide his fans over until the next TBS record hits the streets.
On the sophomore effort from Stove, entitled Stove’s Favorite Friend, they are on the cusp of greatness. For several reasons that I will go into for this review, this band has showcased a true potential for their unique brand of 90’s-esque rock and roll that is pleasant on the ears. Beating to their own drum by quietly releasing this LP mid-week, on Halloween, only adds to the mystery surrounding this four-piece band from Newton, Connecticut.
Michael Azerrad is no stranger to writing about music. He’s the author of Our Band Could Be Your Life, and he recently released Rock Critic Law. The latter is a book that includes 101 unbreakable rules for writing badly about music, as the subtitle notes. The book is an extremely quick read as the rules are presented in tweet-length format.
I hate voicemail. I hate leaving it. I hate receiving it. I always expect the worst and/or I think I sound like a total goober on the other end. Basically, it’s the one technology that gives me the most anxiety. So it’s fitting that the latest from Antarctigo Vespucci, Love in the Time of E-Mail, would begin with a song called “Voicemail,” kicking off a record that encompasses all the anxiety-ridden excitement and nervousness that comes with exploring personal relationships in a digital world.
It’s the second full-length release from the dynamic duo of Chris Farren and Jeff Rosenstock (the first on Polyvinyl Records). As the frontmen of two beloved underground punk bands – Fake Problems and Bomb The Music Industry! respectively – the two musicians’ profiles have risen considerably over the past few years due to incredible solo albums and headline-stealing performances. So despite having a little more buzz surrounding this release than their 2015 debut Leavin’ La Vida Loca, Antarctigo Vespucci decided to keep doing what they do best – dissecting the pop songs that defined its genre and integrating those moments into 3-minute bursts of intoxicating rock songs. The album offers a terrific mix of Rosenstock’s fuzzy punk energy and Farren’s honey-sweet melodies, resulting in the band’s best release in their 100-year career.
Let me preface this My Chemical Romance retrospective by stating that they are my favorite band, and I still hold The Black Parade as one of my top-5 favorite albums ever recorded. Throughout My Chemical Romance’s career, I was astounded by their rise to fame, and having seen them go as the first opening band on tour with The Used, to headlining stadiums by the time The Black Parade reached its heights, and I have marveled at the lore and theatrics surrounding my favorite artist.