A few weeks ago I got burnt out. Good-to-great records have been releasing at such a rapid pace (never a bad thing!) and I wouldn’t be able to write a quote-unquote traditional review for every single one. It overwhelmed me to the point of an incredibly paralyzing writer’s block. Then the idea hit me. It’s not an original one as round-ups have existed since the dawn of blogging, but every week or two weeks I’ll do these roundups where I write 1-2 paragraphs about 3-6 albums that’ve released over the past few weeks. I’ll still do the occasional “longer” form of reviews, but primarily I just want to write something about an album I really enjoy without feeling like I have to write 400-500 words every time. So with that out of the way and a hat tip to Steven, welcome to Drew’s Untitled Review Roundup (or DURR). Thank you.
Three years ago, when I reviewed Ceres’ sophomore album Drag It Down on You, I said “Tom Lanyon sounds pissed.” But that isn’t the case on We Are a Team. Lanyon sounds happy. Hell, the first line of the record is “I’m gonna get happy.”
That isn’t the case when talking to him, either. He’s quick to laugh, quick to joke, and seemingly eternally grateful to be able to make music that connects with people. I got the chance to talk to Tom about the band’s upcoming We Are a Team, out next week.
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.
“I’m going back to my roots” is a statement that we often hear in today’s musical landscape. Sometimes, it happens following a commercial dud of an album. Occasionally, the back to my roots album comes after rigorous stadium touring, yearning for simpler beginnings. Or, it’s a deflection from a “bad” image, resulting in cleaning up one’s act. For Steven Wilkinson, artistically known as Bibio, Ribbons is a sequel to the structured storytelling of his 2016 album, A Mineral Love.
With Ribbons, Wilkinson steps away from the ambient electronica of 2017 album, Phantom Brickworks. That doesn’t mean he’s ditched the intelligent dance music that defined past releases. In fact, the touches of synthesizers serve to elevate the gentle nature of Ribbons. On 28 February this year, Wilkinson took to Twitter to discuss the new album, divulging that it’s “an album made very much in admiration of nature, yet through a tinted window of manmade escapism. Recalling the beauty in nature and the sadness of seeing it spoiled.”
Back in February, on this very website, I predicted that Owel’s then-upcoming third album would be “just as vibrant, expansive, and gorgeous as its namesake” Paris. A single listen through reveals that to be true. Paris is a truly beautiful record, and, though it hasn’t even been out a week, it’s not inconceivable that it might be the band’s best yet.
Every Owel album feels like a cinematic experience, and Paris is no exception. Their last album, Dear Me, began the band’s slide towards the more symphonic end of the post-rock spectrum, and Paris pushes even further in that direction. There remains a heavy emphasis on crescendos and orchestral swells, but there seems to be less of a straightforward rock influence on Paris than there was on Dear Me. There are few moments like the catchy chorus of “Annabel” or the belted bridge of “I Am Not Yours” on Paris; instead, the climax of “A Message” is a whirlwind of strings and horns, and violin and piano take center stage on “Get Out Stay Out.” Jay Sakong is still a clear presence – thankfully, as he turns in perhaps his best vocal performance yet – but he doesn’t feel like the focal point of much of the record, giving every member of Owel equal weight.
DC Comics hosted a Batman panel at WonderCon on Friday, March 29th to celebrate the character turning 80. The panel was moderated by Sam Humphries, and the panelists included Greg Capullo, Peter Tomasi, Joëlle Jones, Becky Cloonan, Scott Snyder, and Tom King. They shared their experiences with the character and even had a couple of big announcements.
The first announcement was the changing of the Detective Comics logo. The second was a new comic from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, Batman: Last Knight on Earth. The panel gave attendees a sneak peek at some of Capullo’s artwork on the title and its safe to say that I’m excited for this one. While I’m not entirely caught up on the work that the two have done since New 52, I’ve seen enough to know that I’m in for the long haul with both creators.
Looking back on the tenth anniversary of Silverstein’s fourth studio album, A Shipwreck in the Sand, is an interesting project and it in many ways is a snapshot of the state of the world we were living in. Coming off a slightly commercially and critically disappointing third album in Arrivals & Departures, the band felt a sense of urgency to deliver a great record. Silverstein turned once again to the Discovering the Waterfront producer, Cameron Webb, to help them create an early-career landmark album in their discography. The themes of betrayal, loss, war, and the problems with the US health care system are prevalent throughout this LP. Self-described by the band as being one of their “heaviest” records in their career, this album takes us on a four chapter journey in the form of a captivating concept record.
If there’s a musical equivalent of the bildungsroman (bildungsrecord?), then Downhaul’s debut full-length Before You Fall Asleep certainly qualifies. Throughout the album’s 33 minutes, Gordon Phillips and company try to navigate their twenties – with varying degrees of success. When they do fail, which seems to happen fairly often, they at least come back stronger.
So it is, in fact, when the album begins. “Grace Days” is a slow, drawly opener that stops and starts back up again twice within the first minute, like the band is just getting used to this whole music thing. “Word reaches me that you’re not taking care of yourself,” Phillips sings in the first verse. If you’re expecting some profound words of comfort, you’d be disappointed. He doesn’t call or write to check in, “because I don’t know how to, and that’s something I’ve got to live with.” This becomes a recurring theme on Before You Fall Asleep, that feeling of powerlessness you have over your own life, not to mention those of the people you love.
About halfway through Angel Du$t’s jovial third album Pretty Buff, vocalist Justice Tripp is marching to his own beat on the sunny “Bang My Drum” – literally. “I asked my baby girl to stay/She left and took my drum away/Got so many feelings now/I got no way to let it out” bellows Tripp over upbeat acoustic strums and a goddamn saxophone solo. It’s a stark contrast to the Baltimore band’s pummeling 2016 release Rock The Fuck On Forever, as the band (featuring members of hardcore champions Trapped Under Ice and Turnstile) trade in the aggression for some alt-leaning pop-rock reminiscent of seminal 90s bands such as The Lemonheads, R.E.M. and the Violent Femmes.
There are some things that come stock with being a human. For example, youthfulness is an inherent birthmark that time can never truly erase. The Maine’s 2017 release, Lovely, Little, Lonely, reminded us that loneliness is not a feeling exhibited exclusively by those who happen to be alone. But if that piercing solitude is just one more needle somehow stitching us to one another, then why is it still so easy to feel so … isolated? It’s the thousand-yard stare into your reflection with that prospective new shirt on. The nights spent laying just a little too still, the ones that can only be described as hours of staring into the back of your eyelids. The heart-fluttering hesitation in confronting yourself with the question “is this where I want to be?” In the end, the sentiment of inadequacy will always remain an individual cross to bear. It’s a distinct brand of discomfort that illusively seems to stem from a series of our commonalities as humans, but that, in reality, is near impossible to divorce from our unique personal experiences.
And let’s be real: the past few years have given us every reason to become lost in that discomfort. Often in a perpetual state of examining the importance of mental health while becoming increasingly aware of the very things that deteriorate it.
A reunion is a tricky thing to get right. When a widely adored band returns after a long time away, there’s a daunting amount of room for disappointment. Some bands try to recapture the lightning they managed to bottle two decades ago and end up sounding like shambling zombies of their former selves, unable – as anyone is – to return in their middle age to being the people they were in their youth. Others don’t concern themselves with new music at all and simply play the old songs to the people who want to hear them with only half the energy and sincerity it would take to make them worth the ticket price. Emo has seen examples of both models in the past half-decade, as the genre’s revival sparked a renewed interest in its golden-era bands. But it’s also seen a third model. A select few groups have found a sweet spot of honesty and genuineness in who they are now, combined with a connection to and awareness of who they were twenty years ago. It’s in this sweet spot that a band manages to hang on to their soul.
As reunited emo bands go, American Football are anomalous in that their second time around has by now lasted longer than their first. All the mythos and reverence that came to surround the band in the time that they were gone was built in only three years and one record together. It puts them in a unique position, that of being on only their third album 22 years after they formed; they’re a band still exploring and expanding their sound, yet with the maturity that comes from age and experience.
When Bad Suns came into the light of the Indie Rock scene in late 2013, I was instantly enamored with their unique style of 70’s and 80’s-era post-punk all packaged in a new and vibrant form. Now on their third full-length album, Mystic Truth does little to change my glowing opinion of this young band that continues to show amazing growth and promise. Filled with shiny guitar-driven rock, this album shows staying power in being in our rotations well throughout the Spring and early-Summer seasons.
Kicking off the set with the first single, “Away We Go” paints lead singer Christo Bowman in search for love and purpose as he sings, “I need some love and affection/I’ve got no sense of direction or what to do/I hear a song on the radio that breaks through/Yeah, that’s right, I’m talking to you.” The song itself is a great reminder of the pop sensibilities that Bad Suns have come closer to perfecting in the early stages of their career and is a nice opener to a set of songs that gel well together.
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.
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.