“Write what you know.” That piece of advice has been given countless times to countless writers across countless different mediums, from books to films to TV shows. It’s not a bad tip, especially for greener storytellers, but it can also be limiting. In the world of songwriting, especially, one of the great joys is how a song can allow you to inhabit someone else’s life for a few minutes, or to experience a world other than your own. There’s something exhilarating about when a talented songwriter steps outside their own life to take a walk in someone else’s shows, whether it’s Springsteen writing a bunch of songs about killers and criminals on Nebraska or Taylor Swift closing her own diary to explore character on folklore and evermore. Still, for some writers, the “Write what you know” mantra is the gateway to brilliance, and few young songwriters ever took it more seriously than Andrew McMahon did on Something Corporate’s 2002 major label debut, Leaving Through the Window.
McMahon turned 19 on September 3, 2001. A few months later, on the day after Christmas, he and his bandmates commenced recording for the album that would become their big breakthrough statement. By January, the album was done, and on May 7, 2002, it hit the streets. McMahon was still four months shy of his 20th birthday, and less than two years out of high school. Rather than try to write songs that hid his youth, McMahon embraced it. The result was one of the greatest and most authentic albums ever made about teen angst, growing up, and coming of age. Leaving Through the Window is now older than McMahon was when the record came out, but it remains gripping and beautiful due to how timeless the themes and stories proved to be. Read More “Something Corporate – Leaving Through The Window”
In the crowded scene of pop-punk bands during the early 00’s, I admittedly didn’t give Midtown as much of a hard look as I should have in retrospect. I would usually enjoy the singles that the band put on the Warped Tour compilation that came out each year, or stumble across a friend’s MP3 of punk songs on their computer that caught my ear, but I didn’t get on this band’s bandwagon until much later. After seeing Living Well Is The Best Revenge at a record store for a criminally low price, I took a chance on the album that I’ve grown to love even more so today. This album was crafted under the direction of producer Mark Trombino (Blink-182, Jimmy Eat World), and he helped Midtown hone in on the best parts of their sound to create a record that should’ve received more love and media attention. In an interview with Jason during the AbsolutePunk days, Midtown went into detail about their disdain for Drive-Thru Records, and potentially may have stunted some of the label’s desire to push the album into more commercial outlets. Controversy aside, Midtown’s Living Well Is the Best Revenge should be considered one of the better pop-punk albums to come out of this period of time. Read More “Midtown – Living Well Is The Best Revenge”
It’s pretty amazing to think of just how much the music scene has changed in a short 20 years time. During the “emo boom” of the early 00’s, it seemed like every major label was falling over themselves in order to sign the next big thing in music and cash in on the interest in the punk/emo scene. There seemed to be a bigger buzz online in several key music website communities that you could sort of feel, or at least get a basic pulse, of when that next band was poised to make a big splash on the music landscape. As much as has been written about the tumultuous relationship Victory Records had with their bands and their contracts, I figured I’d focus the majority of this retrospective on the beauty of the music that Taking Back Sunday has left us with. Tell All Your Friends was one of those electric records that was destined to be huge, immediate, and make the listener feel like they were a part of something that belonged to them. I remember hearing of Taking Back Sunday for the first time in college when a friend of mine had just “discovered” a new band that he described as a mix between hardcore, punk, and anthemic pop that he thought I’d be into. What I wasn’t expecting was for this band to open up a gateway of possibilities of where my music tastes would gravitate towards for the foreseeable future. Read More “Taking Back Sunday – Tell All Your Friends”
I’ve never particularly liked the term “one hit wonder,” since it implies that the band or artist didn’t have any other good material that preceded or followed after a moment of success. Alas, Marcy Playground usually gets lumped into that “one hit wonder” moniker when discussing bands from the late 90’s Alternative Rock scene. The band found breakthrough success with their song “Sex and Candy,” and they steadily released three additional albums, with their last studio album coming in 2009 called Leaving Wonderland…In A Fit of Rage. Marcy Playground recently paired up with other 90’s bands like Everclear and Local H on 2018’s Summerland Tour, and I always felt like they didn’t get the true recognition they deserved for their unique brand of quirky rock. Marcy Playground in particular, their self-titled debut, was one of those records I discovered later in life and was kicking myself for not diving further into the material earlier. There’s never been a better time to dive back into this record that delivers all over the album. Read More “Marcy Playground – Marcy Playground”
I can still remember the moment when I realized that fun. were going to be ubiquitously, annoyingly, stratospherically huge. It was February 5, 2012 and I was sitting on a ratty faux-leather sofa in my college apartment, hanging out with my roommates and watching the Giants beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. During one of the commercial breaks, I heard an already familiar (to me) wall of synths and tinkling pianos, and a soon to be inescapable (to everyone) chorus hook that loudly declared: “Tonight/We are young/So let’s set the world on fire/We can burn brighter/Than the sun.”
That 60-second TV spot, an ad for the 2012 Chevy Sonic, effectively launched this trio of pop-rock polyglots into outer space. “We Are Young” already had a little bit of buzz building behind it at that point, having featured prominently in an episode of Glee that aired in December 2011. But it was the Super Bowl placement that, to quote the song, set the world on fire. A week later, “We Are Young” topped the Billboard Hot Digital Songs chart. 16 days after the Super Bowl, fun. released Some Nights, their sophomore album, which contained “We Are Young” in the track-three slot. The album sold 70,000 copies in the first week and debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard charts, despite generally mixed critical reviews. By March 17, “We Are Young” was the No. 1 song in the United States – a status it maintained for six weeks. Read More “fun. – Some Nights”
I’ll never forget the first time I heard On the Impossible Past. I had a copy from a friend who told me for months to check out The Menzingers and that this album would blow my mind. I was in my car getting ready to head to work, when I finally decided to fire up the record on my iPod. At the time I was 23, I was in my first year out of college, working a job I hated and was missing the great times I was having with friends months earlier. As I put the car in drive, the words “I’ve been having a horrible time, pulling myself together,” spilled out of my speakers and time stopped. “Good Things” immediately wowed me and all I could do was turn up volume up.
On that drive to work, I never made it past “Burn After Writing.” I kept going back to “Good Things” and repeatedly listened to the opening two tracks bleed into each other. It wasn’t until my ride home where I discovered “The Obituaries” and what the rest of the album had to offer. Listening to On the Impossible Past in full for the first time was truly an out of body experience for me. The storytelling by singer/guitarist Greg Barnett and singer/guitarist Tom May swept me off to a different world that took place years ago; I was getting drunk in the back of a Lions Club, I was getting drunk with Casey before I did dishes and then I walked home single, seeing double. Read More “The Menzingers – On the Impossible Past”
The fourth studio album from the San Diego-based band, Unwritten Law, brought the group of ton of success in the early part of the 00’s era of pop-punk, and deservedly so. Elva is filled with crisp pop-rock gems including “Up All Night,” “Rescue Me,” “Sound Siren,” and their first chart-topping Modern Rock hit in “Seein’ Red.” Unwritten Law fought through the crowded scene of pop-rockers making a name for themselves like Sum 41, Good Charlotte, and Mest to improve upon their songwriting craft and deliver their most successful album to date in Elva. Produced by John Shanks, Miguel, Josh Abraham, and the band, this remains one of those records I look back fondly upon as it celebrates its 20 year mark. Led by the dynamic and energetic vocals of band leader, Scott Russo, Unwritten Law were starting to really make their mark in the music scene by the end of this album cycle. Read More “Unwritten Law – Elva”
1997 was a huge year for the Alternative Rock genre, and music fans in general, due to the vast number of great releases coming out. Since I missed the opportunity to write about Clumsy by Our Lady Peace at the 20 year mark, I figured it was about time to revisit this Alt Rock classic for its 25th Anniversary. Sure, everyone knows the major hits on this record like “Superman’s Dead,” “Automatic Flowers,” “4 AM,” and the slow-building title track, but the depth that Mike Turner, Jeremy Taggart, and lead vocalist Raine Maida went to into crafting the songs that surround these huge singles speaks to Our Lady Peace’s ability to live on in Alt Rock-lore. Many people don’t realize that Clumsy was the sophomore album from Our Lady Peace, with their debut coming in the form of Naveed. The music landscape had changed significantly since their debut released in the United States in 1995, and it was only a matter of time before this talented Canadian band would strike the right chord of the heartstrings of music listeners everywhere. Clumsy was produced by Arnold Lanni, who also gets writing credits on the album, and he does a great job in getting the best performances out of these young rockers to create a legendary, Alternative staple. Read More “Our Lady Peace – Clumsy”
In a music landscape filled with some odd band names, Hoobastank may have taken the prize for strangest moniker. On their self-titled major label debut, the band came roaring out of the gate with a strong debut single in “Crawling in the Dark” that rose as high as the top three on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart. One thing that many people don’t know about the band is that this record is actually their second full-length record with the independently released They Sure Don’t Make Basketball Shorts Like They Used To, that featured a horn section and not too much material within the same realm as Hoobastank. I discovered this band in a similar way as others, by seeing their first music video on MTV2 and then promptly buying my first concert ticket to see them at the 9:30 Club. Their live show was filled with pulse-pounding drums (courtesy of Chris Hesse), the brilliant riffing from guitarist Dan Estrin, and anthemic vocals from Doug Robb. During this concert, they played two tracks from their independent debut, “Earthsick” and the song closest to the sound they would go for on their Island Records’ debut on “Stuck Without a Voice.” This concert made me a life-long fan of the band, and they would go on to achieve remarkable success on their subsequent record called The Reason, where the title track made them a household name. This meteoric rise made the radio ready rock band Hoobastank something that ironically everyone would know exactly what you’re talking about. Read More “Hoobastank – Hoobastank”
It’s amazing what a little visual perspective can do for a band. While many of the 90’s Alt-Rock and nu-metal scene were sledging away in the studio, Incubus decided to create an environment most conducive to the music they wanted to create. The band decided to live in a large, spacious house in Malibu, California. This would be the last record made with bassist Alex “Dirk” Katunich, and he described in interviews that the band, “tried to do that for at least the writing portion of Make Yourself, but we didn’t have enough clout at the time. The idea was to not feel as if you were driving [somewhere] to work on a record. You could just get up and it was a natural extension of your day.” Vocalist Brandon Boyd shared that sentiment in other ways by saying, “every time we’d pull into the street we had the view of the ocean and Pacific Coast Highway. I got a big creative boner every time I’d show up to the house.” And from that, Incubus would give birth to the record now known as Morning View. If Make Yourself was an introduction to the sound that the band would start to round out their repertoire for their career, Morning View was them becoming true artists in every sense of the word. Read More “Incubus – Morning View”
Coming off of the moderate success of their sixth studio album, Not Without A Fight, the veteran pop-punk rockers chose trusted producer Neal Avron to oversee these sessions that would become Radiosurgery. New Found Glory released this album under Epitaph Records and would be their last studio album with their disgraced, original guitarist. Radiosurgery, for whatever reason, seems to get unfair treatment when comparing it to other NFG albums in their discography. While most wrote it off as standard fodder from the Florida pop-punk band, there really are some true gems on this album that is a satisfying listening experience from start to finish. The album received generally positive reviews from music critics, but only sold under 11,000 copies on the Billboard 200 charts (opening at #35). Radiosurgery would eventually peak at #26 on the Billboard 200 charts, and still contains many set staples in NFG’s live performances due to its upbeat nature. Read More “New Found Glory – Radiosurgery”
Is there a more reliable rock band than Thrice? The band was consistently delivering landmark album after landmark album in the wake of Vheissu, the ambitious The Alchemy Index, and one of my all-time favorite Thrice albums in Beggars. The band approached their eighth studio album, Major/Minor, with veteran poise under the leadership of producer/mixer/engineer Dave Schiffman, who also oversaw Vheissu (audio engineer) and Beggars (mixer). Vocalist/guitarist Dustin Kensrue described their choice of producer in an Alternative Press interview where he said, “We had him come down to our practice space when all the songs were kind of being played and [he] just kind of listened through and talked about them and made a couple changes based on little things said here or there, but it was really minimal in that regard. He was mostly just bringing his experience as an engineer and mixer, just knowing how to get the sounds nailed down. We’re really comfortable with him.” This comfort that Thrice felt with Schiffman pays major dividends as the band continued their mean streak of solid-sounding albums. Read More “Thrice – Major/Minor”
Brian Fallon didn’t NEED to make Elsie. By the time this album arrived – the one and only record Fallon made with the side project he dubbed The Horrible Crowes – Fallon was already well on his way to rock star status…or, at least, it seemed that way at the time. His full-time band, The Gaslight Anthem, had released three albums and an EP in the space of three years and about two weeks – a remarkable run that saw the band gaining ground with each release. By the time Elsie arrived in September 2011, there was already buzz brewing about Gaslight Anthem LP4, and about how that album had the potential to launch Fallon and company into a whole new stratosphere. Just about anyone else would have taken a well-deserved break. Based on the exhaustion that would eventually crash The Gaslight Anthem, maybe Fallon should have. Instead, he teamed up with his guitar tech, Ian Perkins, and made one of the great left-turn albums in 21st century rock ‘n’ roll. Some days, I think it might just be his masterpiece. Read More “The Horrible Crowes – Elsie”
It’s funny when you realize you’ve found an artist that you just know is going the change the landscape or rock, indie rock, and maybe music in general from the first time you hear that distinct sound. The Strokes released their debut record, Is This It, fairly under the radar, with the exception of RCA Records knowing they may have the next really big indie band on their label for the foreseeable future. The Strokes released an EP called The Modern Age in early 2001, which sparked an intense bidding war of major labels falling over themselves to earn the trust of the New York City-based rock band. Is This It was recorded then under the tutelage of producer Gordon Raphael (Regina Spektor) and was ultimately released 20 years ago today in Australia, first. The record would then gradually be released in several countries as their tours were being conducted across the world, and the physical version of the CD would hit the states in October (due to a delay after 9/11 and the label decision to exclude “New York City Cops” on the original sequencing. The vinyl version released on 9/11 still continues to have the track in the original tracklisting). Read More “The Strokes – Is This It”
Some songs just linger in the cultural bloodstream. It’s impossible to predict, in the moment, which songs those will be. Occasionally, it’s the big hits, but it’s also often those same world-conquering smashes that end up sounding the most dated in retrospect. Usually, you have to wait years or even decades to see which songs have truly become songbook classics, once all the context and narrative and hype and promotion has drifted into distant memory. You have to get to the point where all that remains is the song itself and the mysterious, beguiling hold it somehow continues to have over people.
There’s a spectacular cover band in my hometown that mostly plays songs from the classic rock era. It’s not hard to see why: Those songs have been proven staples for so long that building a setlist around them is just a smart business decision. You can’t miss with “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “Don’t Stop Believin’” or “American Girl.” You can’t miss with The Beatles or The Stones. There are precisely two post-2000 songs that I remember regularly hearing in the setlist from this particular cover band. The first one was “Mr. Brightside.”
The second was “The Middle.” Read More “Jimmy Eat World – Bleed American”