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Review: Big Nothing – Chris

Big Nothing - Chris

Setting the stage for a memorable introduction, Philadelphia’s own, Big Nothing, showcase some great punk and driving melodic rock on their debut LP, Chris. With three band members (Pat Graham, Liz Parsons, and Matt Quinn) sharing vocal duties, they are plenty of bright spots to be found on this collection of songs that fit together snugly over 11 tracks that clock in just over 30 minutes. Drummer Chris Jordan (formerly of Young Livers) rounds out this band that has no shortage of musical experience or talent. The themes of emptiness, the search for meaning, and desire to be accepted are apparent even as each band member brings their unique songwriting approach to Chris. Right down to the album artwork depicting a lonely restaurant with very few patrons, it’s apparent that Big Nothing is unafraid to embrace the uncertainty of starting anew and building from the ground up.

Review: An Horse – Modern Air

An Horse

Typically when bands take a hiatus, it can have a damaging effect on both the band and their fanbase alike. Much like a train falling off the tracks, sometimes these events can have severe consequences on a band’s ability to come back, regroup, and remain focused on putting out great music for the right reasons. Luckily, An Horse are one of those bands whose hiatus worked well in their favor, as they sound refreshed and reenergized with a collection of songs made directly for their longtime fans. Modern Air captures the earlier magic of their first two albums, while still coming up with a few new tricks along the way to acquire some new fans along the way in their rebirth.

Review: Culture Wars – Let Me Down

Culture Wars

On the latest single from the Austin rock trio, “Let Me Down” finds Culture Wars navigating through a difficult relationship that is starting to drift astray. Lead vocalist Alex Dugan wears his heart on his sleeve with lyrics such as, “I don’t want to fight no more/Voicemail right away/I know how this goes.” His vocal delivery comes across as earnest, heartfelt, and powerful all at the same time.

The song is masterfully crafted around a guitar riff through the verses and builds up to a great pre-chorus that eventually explodes into a catchy hook. Lead guitarist and electronic musician Mic Vredenburgh allows the song to brood with confidence at he provides a vast, yet dark landscape to complete the picture of Dugan’s vision. Drummer David Grayson knows just when to give delicateness to the beats in the verses, and provides pulse-pounding fills in the chorus to allow the track to soar to new heights. It’s there on the chorus where Dugan confesses, “I’m just waiting for you to let me down/So get all the way, get all the way down.” The track itself allows for thoughtful reflection in the verses, while still allowing the listener to dance their cares away in the chorus.

In the Spotlight: 50 Bands You Need to Hear in 2019

In the Spotlight (Part 1)

Today I’m excited to launch the third version of our In the Spotlight feature. This is the annual feature that continues the tradition of the “Absolute 100” and hopes to introduce you to a whole bunch of new music that should be on your radar.

Just like years past we’ve compiled a list of 50 artists we think are worth your time. Some of the artists recently released their debut albums and some have been around for a while now. However, the one thing they all have in common is that we think they should be in the spotlight and are worthy of your ears. You’ll find the first group of 25, along with blurbs, recommended songs, and sounds like comparisons, below. We’ll release the second batch tomorrow and a playlist of songs from the included artists on Wednesday.

Review: The Damned Things – High Crimes

The Damned Things

What do you do when you get the second album from a band that you thought would never record a follow-up? For starters, you can begin by thanking your lucky stars, especially when the sophomore record surpasses your expectations on what the band was capable of putting into existence. High Crimes delivers all over on the raw, yet incredibly catchy follow-up to The Damned Things debut, Ironiclast.

High Crimes erupts in chaos and into a wall of sound from the opening notes of “Cells,” with some sped-up guitars courtesy of Joe Trohman (Fall Out Boy) and Scott Ian (Anthrax), and the trademark wail of vocalist Keith Buckley (Every Time I Die). The truck pulsates with the drumming of Andy Hurley (Fall Out Boy) and bassist, Dan Andriano (Alkaline Trio). As far as “supergroups” are concerned, The Damned Things have no shortage of talent in every facet of their attack.

Review: The Dangerous Summer – Reach for the Sun

It’s funny the way that albums can mark time. How hearing the right songs at the right moment can make them sound like more than songs, or how going back to those songs after 10 or 15 or 20 years can reawaken every feeling you had when you first heard them. It’s funny, too, how the music that does those things to you might not do anything for anyone else. How something can be an incredibly meaningful and important document of your past, but just sound run-of-the-mill to someone else. Or how, if you’d heard an album a decade or a year or six months too early or too late, it might just be a footnote in your musical history rather than a symphony.

No album has ever taken me more by surprise than The Dangerous Summer ‘s Reach for the Sun. I didn’t see it coming, and I wasn’t looking for it. I had no knowledge of the band or their past work, no clue what they sounded like or what their songs might have to say about my life. I just read a rave review of the album one day on AbsolutePunk and decided to give it a shot. Ten years later, those songs still shoot shivers down my spine and choke me up, because they sound like the cusp of adulthood, and like all the friends and memories I’ve left behind in the past decade.

Reach for the Sun had remarkable timing. Its release date was May 5, 2009, just as spring was bursting into full, glorious bloom. I first heard it on May 3, in the early evening, coming out of old boombox speakers in my bedroom, with the gentle glow of the sunset streaming through my window. The day before, my sister had graduated from college. In another month, I’d graduate from high school. My parents and I had driven home, from Ann Arbor to Traverse City, that afternoon. I had a boatload of calculus homework to do and was dreading the evening. AP exams were just days away, and I needed to buckle down and focus. Certainly, I knew I needed a good soundtrack for the study session. So I downloaded this record on the recommendation of a glowing 95 percent review from Blake Solomon and loaded it onto my iPod.

Review: Fury – Failed Entertainment

Fury Failed Entertainment Album Art

In 1991, on Fugazi’s ‘Stacks,’ Ian MacKaye sang, ‘America is just a word but I use it.’ Minor Threat, the hardcore band that MacKaye was best known for before Fugazi, didn’t deal with concepts like that; theirs were personal politics, the friends who had betrayed you or the assholes who pissed you off. Their outlook was rigid, little nuance or philosophical thought, and the standard template for hardcore remains as such. MacKaye grew tired of hardcore before long, though, of its violence and rigidity. Fugazi, in a lot of ways, was an anti-hardcore band. Their rich and complex musicality couldn’t be further from Minor Threat’s fast, loud and sloppy approach, and their lyrics offered political and social commentary that was intelligent and nuanced. It was post-hardcore.

On ‘Birds of Paradise,’ a track halfway through Fury’s Failed Entertainment, vocalist Jeremy Stith declares, ‘US of A, just an idea to me.’ Fugazi’s semantics are echoed, but the similarity stretches further than that; this too is a record that reaches beyond what hardcore tends to be. The crucial difference is that Failed Entertainment is, unmistakably and proudly, a hardcore record.

Review: Kayak Jones – You Swear It’s Getting Better Every Day

Kayak Jones

You Swear It’s Getting Better Every Day feels to me like the sort of album that, were it released two decades ago, would net Kayak Jones the legacy of a band like Name Taken. Perhaps not appreciated in their time, but considered a classic in retrospect. Like Name Taken, Kayak Jones is ultimately a pop-punk band, although with a heavy dose of emo influence. While they aren’t the first to play the style, and won’t be the last, they do so in a way that feels refreshing.

Review: Catfish and the Bottlemen – The Balance

Catfish and the Bottlemen - The Balance

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The old English proverb could be applied directly to the case of Catfish and the Bottlemen. While many artists are quick to change their styles at the drop of a hat from album to album, the working-man approach of this Welsh quartet clicks along remarkably well on their third album, called The Balance. If nothing else, Catfish and the Bottlemen know precisely the type of music that suits them, and they are willing to continue out this path, naysayers be damned.

Right down to the trademark black and white artwork, it appears that this band has crafted a trilogy of albums whose songs could very well be re-arranged from one album to the next with minimal side effects to the untrained ear. Whether this was an intentional direction from the band to hone in on their strengths in their sound, rather than create an experimental or quirky LP in their discography, The Balance lives up to its name by striking the proper ledger between their debut (The Balcony) and their sophomore effort (The Ride).

Drew’s Untitled Review Roundup – Vol. 1

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.

Interview: Tom Lanyon of Ceres

Ceres

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.

Review: The Strumbellas – Rattlesnake

The Strumbellas

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.

Review: Bibio – Ribbons

Bibio

“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.”

Review: German Error Message – Mend

German Error Message - Mend

Although it’s officially been spring for a couple of weeks now, we’re still stuck in that middle part of the Venn diagram in between winter and spring. You still need a jacket on your morning commute, but you can change into shorts by lunchtime. It’s still hazy and cloudy, but it’s warming up, and the snow’s been replaced with rain. This is all to say that it’s the perfect weather to listen to German Error Message’s new album Mend.

Review: Owel – Paris

Owel

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 Celebrates Batman’s 80th Anniversary

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.

Review: Silverstein – A Shipwreck in the Sand

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.

Review: Downhaul – Before You Fall Asleep

Downhaul

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.