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Review: Bodega – Shiny New Model

Bodega - Shiny New Model

Bodega burst onto the post-punk scene in July 2018. Teeming with style and homages as overt as The B-52s and Gang of Four, the Brooklyn-based band’s debut album, Endless Scroll displayed an intelligent, witty group with a fully formed catalog of ideas. “Your playlist knows you better than a closest lover,” sings Ben Hozie on “How Did This Happen?!,” a biting take on the guilt of “the cultural consumer.” In “I Am Not A Cinephile,” Bodega challenges the systems of imperialism, racism, misogyny, and capitalism that allowed the universe of Alfred Hitchcock to be filmed. Co-vocalist Nikki Belfiglio channels riot-grrrl energy in an ode to female pleasure in “Gyrate.” Album highlight, “Truth Is Not Punishment” has two appearances (Long and Short) on the band’s new EP, Shiny New Model.

Endless Scroll quickly established Bodega as a band that questions oppressive systems, male idols, and consumerism. After a year of touring, the making of Shiny New Model marked a series of firsts for the band. It’s the only recording session they’ve had in a studio, the first recording with new drummer Tai Lee (previously a performer in the show STOMP), and the band handled production for the first time. On Shiny New Model, Bodega presents a new bunch of questions. This time around, there’s even more ground to cover.

Review: The Menzingers – Hello Exile

The-Menzingers-Hello-Exile

The last time we heard from The Menzingers, they were fretting over getting older. “Where we gonna go now that our twenties are over?” frontman Greg Barnett asked repeatedly on “Tellin’ Lies,” the opening track from 2017’s After the Party. If that album had ended with its title track, Barnett would have had his answer (and the band could have feasibly had their happy ending). “After the party, it’s me and you.” The record proved to be a growing-up narrative that culminated in a love story—or so it seemed. But the last song on that record was actually “Livin’ Ain’t Easy,” where life was likened to a continental breakfast where they’re always out of coffee.

Hello Exile is essentially that line blown up into a widescreen, cinematic experience. The party is way past over, and so are your twenties. This time, youth and young adulthood have been replaced by the next chapter, and it’s one where things don’t seem quite as black and white as they used to. “How do I steer my early 30s?/Before I shipwreck, before I’m 40?/ Ain’t it a shame what we choose to ignore/What kind of monsters did our parents vote for?” Those are some of the first lines that Barnett sings on “America (You’re Freaking Me Out),” Hello Exile’s disillusioned opening track. A lot of this record is about trying to pretend that you’re younger than you are, or trying to get back to those golden days of youth—back when you had no cares or responsibilities. Right off the bat, though, “America” tips the record’s hand, because how can you get back to that place of innocence when the whole nation seems to be going to hell? Later, on the terrific “Strain Your Memory,” Barnett pines after a girl with a simple proposition: “Can you strain your memory back to the times/When trouble wasn’t always on our minds?” It’s a nice thought, but it’s not always that easy.

Review: Vinnie Caruana – Aging Frontman

When I last spoke with Vinnie Caruana a few weeks ago, he was incredibly excited to share his solo record Aging Frontman with everyone. Now that I’ve had some time to absorb everything that is in this fantastic album, Vinnie and my conversation still sticks in mind with his cautious optimism towards his outlook on not only his music, but his life and accomplishments as well. Aging Frontman on the surface is an observation of Vinnie’s outlook on his great career with bands such as The Movielife, and I Am The Avalanche, yet this solo record solidifies an even greater standing with just how accomplished a musician and songwriter Vinnie Caruana is and has become.

Review: ThreadBear – Fine By Me

threadbear album art

There’s not much of a tradition of emo in the UK. In the 90s, emo developed so geographically that the generally-used term for it is ‘Midwest emo,’ since its sound was incubated by bands like Cap’n Jazz from Illinois, The Promise Ring from Wisconsin, The Get Up Kids from Missouri. That’s not to say that that scene was by any means insular; Texas is the Reason from New York, Jimmy Eat World from Arizona and Mineral from Texas all had distinctly ‘Midwestern’ sounds, and the forebearers of any one of those bands were Sunny Day Real Estate from Washington state and Jawbreaker from California. Plus, none of it would have happened without the Revolution Summer bands from DC, most notably Embrace and Rites of Spring, and perhaps, more importantly, Fugazi which sprung from both of them. Cross-country touring, plus zines and demo exchanges, meant that emo was pretty effectively shared across every corner of the States. Many of those bands did tour the UK too – Braid and The Get Up Kids went over there together in 1998 – but it seemingly wasn’t enough to imprint on the UK its own parallel scene, at least not one that made enough of an impact to enter the canon of emo as we talk about it twenty years on.

What we have now is ‘fourth-wave’ emo (also known as emo revival), a spiritual continuation of that Midwestern scene, with the difference being that this one was and is built heavily around Bandcamp, Twitter, and online blogs like PropertyOfZack, The Alternative and, yeah, Chorus.fm. Since house shows and local community amongst bands are still key to DIY, it didn’t bring about a total eradication of geography – ask anyone about the Philadelphia scene, for example – but it does mean that now there’s no ocean for music to travel, bands that emulate the 90s Midwestern sound can pop up anywhere.

Review: The Lumineers – III

The Lumineers - III

When The Lumineers set out to record the follow-up their highly successful sophomore effort, Cleopatra, the band managed to raise their expectations for what would become III. The album is presented in three chapters: each coming with their own set of themes, topics, and overall feel. The album itself progresses nicely as it unfolds over these chapters, and co-founder/multi-instrumentalist of The Lumineers, Jeremiah Frates mentioned in an interview that, “This collection of songs worked out in a beautiful way, and I feel with this album we’ve really hit our stride.” The confidence that comes through on this record can be felt, but it’s a bit of a departure from the upbeat nature of their second record. What we are left with is an “artist’s record” that stays true to who The Lumineers are as both people, as well as musicians.

Review: Sturgill Simpson – Sound & Fury

Sturgill Sound and Fury

At the end of 2016, Sturgill Simpson managed maybe the most unlikely Grammy Album of the Year nomination of the modern era, for his third LP, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. A few months later, he lost that particular award—to Adele—but did manage to walk away with a Grammy for Best Country Album. None of those things are going to happen again, and it’s not because Sound & Fury, the long-awaited follow-up to Sailor’s Guide, isn’t great. Rather, it’s because Sound & Fury 1) isn’t a country album, and 2) is even more blatantly unmarketable than its predecessor.

In a lot of ways, Sound & Fury is an anomaly in the 2019 music world. It’s the sound of a guy who was once hailed as a country music savior—first for his trad-country debut High Top Mountain and later for the experimental, boundary-pushing Metamodern Sounds in Country Music—callously tossing that mantle in the fire. It’s also the sound of an artist who was on the cusp of superstardom—maybe not quite Chris Stapleton/arena-concert-tour level, but close—walking away from it. Finally, it’s a loud, dirty, unapologetic ‘70s-style rock album—the kind that absolutely no one makes anymore. The guitars are so loud and so prominent that they sometimes threaten to drown Sturgill’s voice out entirely. Not that he’d probably mind.

Review: Breakup Shoes – So Money, Baby

Breakup Shoes - so money, baby EP

The inherent nature of a “goal” is to be currently out of reach. Whether far down the road or just fingertips away, goals are the checkpoints we set to help us navigate the uncertainty of life. But the problem, ironically enough, is that uncertainty turns out to be one hell of a goaltender. It’s a relentless opponent that’s not above mind games, and if left unchecked, will tug at the threads of our insecurities until we’re left completely unwoven. Fortunately for So Money, Baby, the Arizona quartet known as Breakup Shoes have provided a bit of sugar for the pill, pairing soda pop sweet, surf-flavored indie rock with a bare-skinned attempt to snip the thread and prevent further undoing.

Mid-album single “Accessory” hits on the central theme surrounding vocalist Nick Zawisa’s core emotional vulnerability — an unrequited love. With a warm, muted bass tone, Derek Lafforthun drives his bandmates through mellow verses in a lackadaisical swagger, crafting a melody of his own before giving way to a subtle, but undeniably strong vocal hook: “I just want to be what you hold close / I just want to be who you love most”. The majority of the lyrical content throughout So Money, Baby is spent this way, deliberating on “what if” scenarios penned by a hopeless romantic. Frankly, there’s not much to be said for it — often left to be desired across the record is a semblance of nuance in exchange for the melodrama. But in the moments where Zawisa opts to deviate from the norm, he briefly lifts the veil to a more compelling premise: the longing to be wanted at all, and the seeping dubiety in meditating on his goals of finding any form of significance in a life outside his own.

Review: Microwave – Death is a Warm Blanket

Microwave - Death is a Warm Blanket

The haunting first lyrics on “Leather Daddy” from Microwave ‘s latest record, Death is a Warm Blanket, come in packed with depth, substance, and relatability. When front-man/guitarist Nathan Hardy sings, “If you don’t want to talk, then just don’t talk /I’m fine with us just sitting in silence / If you want me to go then just say so / You can drop me off somewhere / I don’t know…I don’t have anywhere to go,” it’s nearly impossible not point to a relationship or friendship in the past or present that fits in with this rhetoric. We’ve all been in relationships when things just aren’t clicking, and it feels like we reach a point where we stop caring. Microwave are able to bottle up a ton of angst and polish it up enough to make an album worthy of being engulfed in.

Review: Thrice – Beggars

Thrice Beggars

The praise and allure surrounding the seventh studio album from Thrice is one that I initially didn’t fully grasp at my first listen, nearly ten years ago to the day. Maybe I was in a bad mood that day or was distracted during my listening experience, because as I revisit Beggars now, I can’t fathom how I would have felt anything but pure astonishment and wide-eyed wonder at this pre-hiatus masterpiece by the California rockers. Beggars was released digitally a full month before the physical release date of September 15th, 2009, which gave eager fans a chance to absorb the new sounds from Thrice before rushing out to their local record store the month after. From songs as immediately gratifying as “All the World is Mad” to the progressive-rock elements of “Circles,” Beggars had a little bit of everything from all phases of Thrice’s expansive discography. The self-produced record (with a specific and well-deserved credit to lead guitarist Teppei Teranishi) is a wonderful snapshot of what the band was capable of making when firing on all cylinders.

A look back at this record brings back many emotions for me from hearing these songs live as recently as their spring tour, and now that I have the foresight of seeing where Thrice would eventually take their sound, one can’t help but praise this album as being one of their best.

Interview: Wolfjay

Wolfjay

Melbourne-based indie artist, Wolfjay is exhausted. The night before our meeting at Shortstop Donuts – one of artist and producer Jack Alexander’s beloved spots for coffee and a snack – they played at the inner-city venue, The Gasometer Hotel. It was one of those shows where, early on, everything seemed doomed. Luckily, the night turned out to be a success, mostly thanks to the decision of booking friends, dream-pop band Tamara And The Dreams and desert rock group Beau Lightning as support acts. Without music and Melbourne and Adelaide music scenes, respectively, blossoming friendships with Tamara or Eli of Beau Lightning wouldn’t exist.

Wolfjay is a difficult one to pin down. Listening to their latest EP, Together, out now on Sleep Well Records, they swing from laidback indie to jubilant pop in just three tracks. Teaming up with co-producer Hayden Jeffery once more, Wolfjay delivers a tantalizing cover of Julien Baker’s “Go Home.” Like many of our readers, “Go Home” turned into their go-to comfort song. It’s one of those moments that wasn’t supposed to happen. Wolfjay’s music, too diverse for genre boundaries, is “serious music for people who don’t take themselves too seriously,” softly and warmly spoken, their aim is to create art of cathartic release while acknowledging that “I’m on the same page as you.”

Review: Western Settings – Another Year

Western Settings

On the latest record from San Diego, California rockers Western Settings they begin to embrace the uncertainty of living with the unpredictability of each passing day on Another Year. For those unfamiliar with the band, they remind me a lot of established punk rockers Alkaline Trio with a solid mix of pop sensibilities of The Ataris. Comparisons aside, Another Year rocks with a newfound immediacy not usually found with bands less than ten years under their belts.

Review: Grayscale – Nella Vita

Grayscale

Despite all of its bittersweet essence, few things are as inherently mesmerizing as a reflection on the past. For every new pin in our cork boards, it grows easier by the day to become entangled in the through-line that connects them — from our most inimitable highs, to the devastatingly irreclaimable lows. The sight of the same model car you once drove can trigger an afternoon’s worth of flashbacks, places visited, and relationships formed. A sudden difficult decision may silently launch a week of intricate recollection. Retracing steps, tiring over minute details and things left unsaid. And though we can’t control it, the fact remains that on some level, our memories are revisited daily. We subconsciously roam the rooms of our mind, dusting its shelves and replaying stories like slides in an old projector. Toeing the line between toxic and therapeutic behavior. In a sense, the deliberate attempt to walk that line is perhaps the most distinguishable aspect of what sets Nella Vita apart from the pack of Grayscale’s pop-punk contemporaries.

“I drove past your mother’s house / just to see how it felt / How’s it all been since we were kids / Just hope that you’re doing well.”

Review: Amarionette – Evolution

Amarionette - Evolution

The latest EP from Las Vegas-quintet Amarionette marks the next logical step in their unique pop-rock sound in an album that they have titled Evolution. The record is filled with shiny pop harmonies, pounding drums, and plenty of bright-colored synths to round out their repertoire. Led by the first single, “No Control,” Amarionette are taking full advantage of their turn in the limelight with a self-released record worthy of more exposure in 2019.

Review: Silver Bars – Center of the City Lights

Silver Bars - Center of the City Lights

Debut albums are rarely this immediately endearing, but when you make excellent dreamscape rock, such as what Silver Bars have created here on Center of the City Lights, it finds a way to pull you in. The Austin, Texas four-piece are led by vocalist and guitarist Paula J. Smith, and her confident vocal delivery allows the rest of the group to fill out the wall-of-sound that encompasses the majority of the record. Much like other dream pop-bands such as Beach House, Silver Bars have created sonic musical landscapes with cranked up guitars to help them stand apart.

The 10-track album is filled with lush sounding rock songs, and the band sounds as confident as ever in their delivery. Led by the single, “Lost You to L.A.” Silver Bars’ introduction to the music world allows the listener to come along for the ride with favorable results in the listening experience. The dual-guitar attack from Smith and Ken Hatten is the band’s real strength, as they know exactly when to crank up the sound, or allow a song to brood for a bit. Rounding out the unit is the ultra-talented bassist Stephen Thurman and drummer Johnny Wilkins.

Review: Modern Nature – How To Live

Modern Nature - How To Live

It isn’t often that I hear an album that feels tailor-made for me. Modern Nature’s debut album, How To Live might be it. Bounding off the tails of the twelve-minute epic “Supernature” from the supergroup’s debut EP, Nature, vocalist Jack Cooper (ex-Ultimate Painting), keyboardist Will Young (BEAK>) and drummer Aaron Neveu (Woods) climb to great heights, enhancing their already entrancing compositions with the induction of cellist Rupert Gillett and saxophonist Jeff Tobias (Sunwatchers). It’s Young’s work with BEAK> and Portishead instrumentalist, Geoff Barrow that stunningly complements Cooper’s vision for Modern Nature, blossoming into an astonishing slow-burning tension. In How To Live, the rural and the urban unite; isolation is in decline and endless beauty surfaces.

Review: Noah Gundersen – Lover

Noah Gundersen Lover

I’ve interviewed Noah Gundersen two times in the past and both conversations centered around his restlessness concerning his art. The first time I spoke with him, ahead of the release of 2015’s Carry the Ghost, he told me how his debut album, the previous year’s folk-steeped Ledges, no longer reflected who he was or the music he wanted to make. In 2017, when we chatted about his audacious, adventurous third LP White Noise, it was the songs from the spiritually fraught Ghost that he was ready to move on from. “I just think I’m perpetually dissatisfied, which can be really frustrating,” he said. “But it also drives my creativity and my desire to do better and to make things that are better than what I’ve made in the past.”

On his fourth record, titled Lover (and released on the same day as an album by Taylor Swift that shares the exact same name), Gundersen seems perhaps more comfortable with letting his restlessness slide than he ever has before. The collection is at once both unique from everything he’s ever made previously and packed with songs that call back to previous moments from his catalog. There are raw acoustic songs that feel ripped from the cloth of the traditionally-hewn Ledges. Lead single “Robin Williams,” with its fractious electric guitar chords, plays like a twin to Carry the Ghost’s first single and lead-off track “Slow Dancer.” “Out of Time” initiates flashbacks to the Radiohead influences that blossomed all over White Noise. The entire Noah Gundersen toolkit, it seems, is fair game on this album.

Review: Sleater-Kinney – The Center Won’t Hold

Sleater Kinney

When setting out to record their ninth studio album, Sleater-Kinney began pondering with the idea of working with Wilco singer Jeff Tweedy on the follow-up to No Cities to Love. However, once S-K began the writing process and collaborating with St. Vincent, the band loved this new and exciting direction too much to pass up the chance to have St. Vincent produce the entire album. Once considered one of indie rock’s most reliable bands for their steady work ethic, Sleater-Kinney found themselves at a late-career crossroads. Do they make a similar sounding record to what their audience had come to expect, or push themselves to their creative limits by reinventing what their band could become? The latter is what came to fruition here on The Center Won’t Hold: an electronically expansive record that tinkers with modern sounds and state of the art production elements.

Western Settings – “Another Year” (Song Premiere)

Western Settings

Today I’m excited to bring you the premiere of Western Settings’ new song, “Another Year.”

For those unfamiliar with the band, they are an incredible punk rock band from San Diego, California, and this second single is a strong representation of the band: solid punk rock with ear-candy hooks.

Lead singer and bassist, Ricky Schmidt, is as endearing as ever on the song, and the dual-guitar attack from Dylan Wolters and Will Castro allows the track to soar to new heights. If you’re into punk music, this band is one to watch as the year unfolds.

The song is available for streaming below, and the album is available for pre-order now on Bandcamp. It will be released on September 6th.

Review: Ra Ra Riot – Superbloom

Ra Ra Riot - Superbloom

When preparing for their fifth studio album, Superbloom, Ra Ra Riot mentioned in several interviews their intention to create an album worthy of lasting impact and an enjoyable listening experience. Front-man Wes Miles co-wrote two of the twelve songs with former Vampire Weekend guitarist Rostam Batmanglij, and in doing so, helped expand Ra Ra Riot’s repertoire and sound in general. Miles mentioned in an interview that the band wanted a “DIY, demo mindset” to many of these songs, yet Miles decided these demos that were recorded in his parents’ house were strong enough to be considered the final versions.

One of the first things listeners will notice on Superbloom is how the simple song structures and sounds make for a great experience. This breezy collection of twelve songs are all well thought out, and make a lot of sense cohesively as an album.

Review: Oso Oso – Basking in the Glow

Oso Oso Album Art

My first thought when I heard “The View” – the second track on Basking in the Glow but first in earnest, with a full band and a chorus (the latter of which will prove to be very important on this record) – was that it sounds like it’s from 2003. A pop-punk song from 2003; from a major label band, and a song that would have stuck. We’d still know all the words today.

I guess whether this is a compliment or not depends on your feelings about 00s mall punk, but I absolutely mean it as one. More importantly, it seems that Jade Lilitri – the man behind Oso Oso – would take it as one, or at least isn’t afraid of hearing it. The harmonies, the bouncy chorus, the bridge that drops into half-time, they all feel crafted with such deliberate nostalgia, reverence even, for that era of punk. That’s the common musical thread of the record, all the way through – I hear, at different times, flashes of Dashboard Confessional, Saves The Day, All-American Rejects. (These are less cool influences than the ones I’ve seen critics assign to Oso Oso in the past, like Death Cab For Cutie and Built To Spill; then again, the way that nostalgia cycles means a whole generation listening to this is probably more attracted to the former than the latter.) Perhaps oxymoronically, though, it doesn’t feel like we’ve heard it before – it’s not a copycat, and most of the time you can’t pin it down to whom exactly it sounds like. It would have been an entry in the canon of that time in its own right, and it deserves the same in its own time too.