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Review: Tigers Jaw – Spin

Tigers Jaw - spin

When you consider the last three or four years of Tigers Jaw’s career, spin feels a like an apt title for the band’s fifth album. After the original quintet recorded and released 2014’s stellar Charmer, the band is officially the duo of Ben Walsh and Brianna Collins. And with that foundation firmly in the ground, Tigers Jaw have released their strongest album to date in spin. Working with producer Will Yip once again – and backed by his new Atlantic Records imprint Black Cement – spin is a twelve track adventure consisting of a terrific blend of indie-pop tracks, as Collins joined Walsh with the songwriting duties. The result is stronger hooks, sweeter melodies, and an album that ascends Tigers Jaw to the very top amongst their peers.

Review: Cigarettes After Sex – Cigarettes After Sex

Cigarettes After Sex

I was starting to get nervous about Cigarettes After Sex. Their debut EP, I., had picked up some steam when it was released – in 2012. Sure, they’d released a couple singles here and there, but without any word of an album, or even an EP, I got a little bit disheartened. Cut to present day and Cigarettes After Sex are releasing their self-titled debut and it’s everything I could have wanted out of a follow-up to I. The album picks up up exactly where the EP left off, offering up ten tracks of melancholic, languid indie rock.

Review: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound

“Last year was a son of a bitch for nearly everyone we know.” So Jason Isbell proclaims in the middle of “Hope the High Road,” the resilient lead single from his brand new LP, The Nashville Sound. It’s something of a mission statement for the record, which is very much informed by 2016’s shit storm of political division and deep-seated anger. However, that lyric only gains its resonance from the line that follows it: “But I ain’t fighting with you down in the ditch, I’ll meet you up here on the road.” Being pissed off and dwelling on everything that went wrong last year might feel good, but it isn’t productive. Looking forward and striving to do better and be better is what’s necessary to effect change.

As a lead single, “Hope the High Road” is not indicative of what this album sounds like. It’s bright and anthemic where much of the record is dark and jagged, opting for Springsteen-style uplift instead of following the record’s lead of addressing all those nagging thoughts that you don’t want to talk about at parties. However, the message of the song—that maybe it’s a good idea to take a look inward instead of casting blame for once—is what gives the LP its beating heart. The Nashville Sound is the third masterpiece in a row from Isbell, and it gets there by never giving easy answers to the hard questions.

Review: The Steel Woods – Straw in the Wind

Southern rock often goes overlooked in mainstream or music criticism circles, which is why bands like The Steel Woods will probably never have the widespread followings they deserve. Bands of this ilk either get lumped in with country (and subsequently written off by people who don’t like country) or compared endlessly to Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers Band, as if no southern rock bands have existed since. But the past few years have been nothing but healthy for southern rock, bringing great albums from new artists (A Thousand Horses, Whiskey Myers, Cadillac Three, Blackberry Smoke) and old standbys alike (the ever-reliable Drive By Truckers). Even Chris Stapleton has more than a little bit of the southern rock sound in his DNA.

The Steel Woods add their name to that list with their stellar debut album, the recently-released Straw in the Wind. Blending influences from half a dozen genres—including blues, gospel, down-home country, rock ‘n’ roll, and even a little dash of metal—The Steel Woods sound more seasoned, versatile, and assured on this sprawling 13-song collection than you would normally expect from a debut act. (Though they do have a previous four-song EP under their belt.) The band’s wheelhouse is dark, atmospheric rock ‘n’ roll, like the slow-burning opener “Axe” or the gospel-tinged “Let the Rain Come Down,” a song that appeared in a more acoustic-oriented arrangement on last year’s debut album from singer/songwriter Brent Cobb. Foreboding and thrilling, these songs carry an almost apocalyptic glint to them, which makes for a hell of a lot of fun.

Review: Beach Fossils – Somersault

Earlier in May, I wrote about Mac DeMarco’s new album This Old Dog, concluding that it was “his best and most mature album to date.” This is relevant because, generally speaking, This Old Dog isn’t much different from any other Mac DeMarco album. Sure, the songs are more polished and his production has shifted to put more on the personal singer-songwriter aspect of the album, but these are relatively small revolutions in what has ultimately become the trademark Mac DeMarco sound. Put simply, This Old Dog is just more of what Mac DeMarco does best, done better than before.

This is one way to do things.

Other times, a “good” artist who has historically released “good” albums reaches a critical point in their career: here, they must decide whether to remain stagnant or let loose. And sometimes, a band that chooses the latter ends up releasing their best album yet.

This is the another way to do things, and this is what Beach Fossils have done with their third LP, Somersault.

Review: Bleachers – Gone Now

Bleachers - Gone Now

One of my favorite musical memories was a moment of serendipitous timing outside a record store in Florence, Italy. We found this store almost as an afterthought, popping our heads in at the end of a long day of traveling. But as we left the store, we saw a man busking across the street, singing “Sex On Fire” by Kings Of Leon at the top of his lungs. And I’ll never forget watching this man, singing the lyrics in both English and Italian, crooning “This man is on fire” to a person passing by on a bike. As I watched the assembled crowd start to sing along, again in a mix of languages, I was struck by how a deliberately audacious, silly slice of pop-rock bliss had transcended cultures and boundaries.

All this is to say that when I heard the saxophone on “Everybody Lost Somebody,” made to sound not dissimilar from the street busker I saw in Florence, I knew that Jack Antonoff has had experiences like that. Experiences that made you become not just a spectator in the world around you, but a participant, connected with others. And he realizes that so many of these moments and connections are made through our most universal of languages: music. In many ways, that is what Gone Now, the sophomore record of Jack Antonoff’s project Bleachers, seems to be about: living presently and openly engaging and trying to connect with the people around you.

Review: Paramore – After Laughter

Paramore - After Laughter

It’s hard to overstate just how tumultuous the past decade of Paramore’s career has been. Since before the recording of Brand New Eyes the band has been regularly rocked by near career-ending shifts. While some bands are lucky enough to go through no lineup changes throughout their career, or when lineup changes do happen the splits are often amicable, Paramore has had no such luck. I don’t need to rehash any of the details of this unrest except to say this: While the turmoil would crush almost any other band, the members that have remained, or returned, to Paramore have fought through all adversity to arrive at After Laughter, the crowning achievement of their career so far.

At once a deeply wistful look back at the past decade-plus of the band’s history and a clear eyed assessment of the future, After Laughter is a record about the moments between total heartbreak and absolute elation. These in-between moments allow us to pick up the pieces broken during the former and come down from the euphoric high of the latter, and reassess what our purpose is here on this floating rock. These moments make up the vast totality of our time on Earth, but for some reason they don’t often feel as romantic.

Review: Mac DeMarco – This Old Dog

“And the old hippie?”

“The old hippie’s out there somewhere, yeah. Gives me a call every once in a while. ‘Hey, I heard your song about me, kid…”

“Did he say that?”

“Uh-huh. Yep.”

“And what did he think?”

“[I said] Just wait until you hear the rest, buddy.”

That is an excerpt from Mac DeMarco’s recent interview on WTF with Marc Maron. Maron is known for his very conversational approach to interviewing, and he and DeMarco laugh throughout the conversation – even when discussing DeMarco’s absent father, the overarching theme of DeMarco’s (technically third) full-length LP, This Old Dog. This attitude is reflective of the album. If there’s anything DeMarco is known for, beloved or despised for, it’s his onstage persona and antics. From vulgar classic rock covers to interviews with his mother, DeMarco’s goofball personality is almost certainly what strikes you first and foremost, but it’s his undeniable penchant for vintage guitar and synth sounds that keeps you invested.

Review: John Moreland – Big Bad Luv

A former punk, hardcore, and metalcore singer from Tulsa, Oklahoma, John Moreland made one of the greatest and most pervasively sad country records of the decade so far with 2015’s High on Tulsa Heat. “I’m so damn good at sorrow,” he sang in one of the LP’s key tracks, and he was right. Most of the songs were driven by little more than acoustic guitar and voice, and the lyrics were so heavy and despairing that the record was tough to listen to more than once in a multi-day span. If you were hurting for just about any reason, though, that album could be your best friend.

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Review: Chris Stapleton – From A Room: Volume 1

No artist has ever had a success story quite like that of Chris Stapleton. Two years ago this week, Stapleton released his debut album, a 14-track collection of old school country, blues, southern rock, and soul called Traveller. The album didn’t arrive without buzz: Stapleton was one of the most dependable songwriters in Nashville, a guy with (at the time) four number one country hits to his name. He also made his record with Dave Cobb, the producer who had helped Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson craft breakthrough, critically-beloved albums the two years previous. The result was a number 14 debut on the Billboard 200 with 27,000 copies sold; not remarkable, but not bad for a debut artist, either.

In the Spotlight: 50 Bands You Need to Hear (Part One)

In the Spotlight (Part 1)

Back on AbsolutePunk.net we would run a feature each year called the “Absolute 100.” The basic idea was to put together a list of bands and artists that we thought needed to get a little more attention. This would range from unsigned, to under-the-radar, to underrated acts that we wanted to highlight. Over the years it ended up being one of my favorite features we compiled (I personally discovered quite a few new bands from it). And, I’ve heard from a lot for readers that you loved it as well.

Today I’m excited to bring this feature back under a new name. We’re calling it “In the Spotlight” and we’ve got the same goal: highlight a bunch of artists we think you should check out. This year we’ve got 50 for you. Over the past month our contributors have been putting together blurbs and pulling out song recommendations, and today we’ve got the first group of 25. We’ll be releasing the next set tomorrow.

Review: New Found Glory – Makes Me Sick

NFG - Makes Me Sick

In 2006, New Found Glory took their biggest risk as a band by releasing Coming Home, an album that largely abandoned the band’s customary pop-punk/easycore stylings. Produced by Thon Panunzio, Coming Home introduced more straight-forward rock elements that included keys, pianos, and strings – not surprising considering Panunzio has worked with some of the biggest rock legends of all time (Ozzy, Bruce, Joan Jett, etc.). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the album fell flat commercially and was also the band’s last album to be released on a major label. But creatively and critically it was a success as Coming Home has been regarded as the band’s most daring effort of their career and let the pop-punk world know that New Found Glory would never make the same album twice. It also planted the seeds of what was to come ten years later.

Review: The Maine – Lovely, Little, Lonely

The Maine - Lovely Little Lonely

The Maine has come a long way since the release of their debut full-length album, Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop. In the past decade they’ve grown from young kids with a dream into truly talented musicians – a fact that is evident in their latest album Lovely, Little, Lonely.

Even though each song on Lovely, Little Lonely is a hit in its own right, they make the most sense within the context of the whole. The album flows seamlessly from one song to the next and as a result The Maine succeeds in crafting a story that demands your full attention from start to finish.

Review: Jesse Cannon – Processing Creativity

Jesse Cannon’s latest book takes a look at the creative process and how to get results that you’re happy with. While it focuses largely on music, it can easily apply to so much more than that. Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With isn’t a behemoth of a book like Get More Fans, but it’s equally as effective. The book takes you through the motions of finding who is a best fit to work with, how to make music you’re happy with, and so much more.

Review: John Mayer – The Search for Everything

John Mayer - Search for Everything

What the hell, John?

Let’s journey back for a moment to New Year’s Day, when John Mayer told the world via his Instagram account that his new album, The Search for Everything, would be coming in four-song waves “every month.” Mayer never explicitly said that he would be releasing 48 songs in 2017, but he definitely implied it. Strongly.

What he actually did was release two four-song waves—in January and February, respectively—and then announce a full-length album that would include all those songs, plus a few more. At this point, no one is sure whether Mayer will be continuing with the waves for the rest of the year or not. I don’t think Mayer even knows. On the one hand, CD versions of the new album label it “Vol. 1.” On the other hand, Mayer tweeted on release day: “And that ends an era: August ’14-April ’17.” Since The Search for Everything is an album about Mayer’s breakup with Katy Perry, and since the album is very much a “complete thought” on its own, there seems to be little reason that Mayer would continue this release cycle in any fashion.

Review: Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

“I think most peoples’ idea of authenticity is pork pie hats and vests and banjos and whatever else, but real authenticity is just empathy, because everyone views their own experiences as being the golden standard for authenticity. If you can empathize with people and make them feel like what you’re talking about is somehow reflective of their own experiences, then you’ve won their vanity, and thus achieved authenticity.”

This is a quote from Father John Misty’s episode of Pitchfork’s Over/Under series, a series Josh Tillman jokingly referred to as a “twisted game” as he and his wife were asked to rate such concepts as self-control, marriage, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. This was Tillman’s explanation of “authenticity,” and though he never formally “rates” the concept, his answer may outline the biggest problem with Pure Comedy, his third album under the FJM moniker. It’s not necessarily Tillman’s polarizing personality (or character, as some call it). It’s not the album’s excessive 74-minute runtime, or even its questionable sequencing.

Put simply, it’s hard to empathize with someone who’s talking down to you.

Review: Third Eye Blind – Third Eye Blind

Third Eye Blind’s self-titled is simultaneously one of the most joyful albums I’ve ever heard and one of the most heartbreaking. The first half of the record is stacked with infectiously catchy pop-rock songs—most of which became hit singles. The latter half is more jagged and mid-tempo, with songs that sound noticeably darker and more subdued. Half the songs wouldn’t sound out of place on a summertime party playlist. The other half are songs that ache with such profound loneliness that listening to them with a group of people almost seems sacrilegious. And, as is the trademark of frontman Stephen Jenkins, even some of the songs that sound happy are actually crushing.

Third Eye Blind is a much more complex record than I thought it was when I first heard it, and I’d reckon that something similar holds true for most people. Frankly, early on, it was easy to hear Third Eye Blind’s music as little more than catchy radio rock. In the summer of 1997, “Semi-Charmed Life” rode the infectiousness of its “doo doo doo” hook to the number one slot on Billboard’s Mainstream Top 40 chart. At six years old, I thought it was the catchiest song I’d ever heard. At 26 years old, I still think it’s the catchiest song I’ve ever heard. There might not be a single song that makes me think more of summertime than that one.