Review: Blink-182 – [Untitled]

It really does feel like yesterday that I was just unwrapping the CD of this Blink-182 classic, known to many as their [Untitled} fifth effort, and grinning ear to ear about the sound that was about to surround me for the next two-plus years of a standard album cycle. Little did I know, this would be the last studio album Blink-182 would record for eight (!) years, until they returned with 2011’s Neighborhoods. This studio effort was a flawless execution of slick pop-punk hooks, experimental rock, hip-hop beats, and a top-notch collaborative song with The Cure’s Robert Smith. While some longtime Blink fans were disappointed with the final result of this record (that succeeded the bulletproof pop-punk classic, Take Off Your Pants & Jacket), almost all of these fans now point to this album as a seismic shift in the band’s songwriting and offered glimpses as to where they would take their sound for the foreseeable future. This fifth LP was produced by Jerry Finn, and it would also end up being their longest album to date, clocking in at a little over the 49-minute mark. Mark Hoppus, Tom DeLonge and Travis Barker should be looking back fondly on this momentous album today that would find Blink-182 breaking down the silos of what a pop-punk band should sound like, and blow the doors off the hinges in the process.

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Review: Social Distortion – Mommy’s Little Monster

Time just keeps marching on, doesn’t it? When Social Distortion released their debut LP, Mommy’s Little Monster, in June (the exact date couldn’t be pinned down) of 1983, it signaled an energetic movement in the SoCal punk scene. The most “traditional” of punk records in Social Distortion’s storied discography, Mommy’s Little Monster, is an adrenaline shot to the hip of slick guitar-driven hooks, paired with vocalist/guitarist Mike Ness’s trademark growl. The LP has been passionately restored to notoriety by Craft Recordings and their 40th anniversary vinyl reissue that hit stores today. The album features quick punk rock songs like “The Creeps (I Just Wanna Give You)” that while they seem raw on the surface, are packed with some breadcrumbs of where Social Distortion would take their sound for the next 40-plus years. The only single to be released, “Another State of Mind,” still finds its way into Social D’s setlist from time to time, and remains a punk scene favorite. Mommy’s Little Monster plays out like a band gaining their footing in the exploding punk scene of the early 80’s and still holds up to this day.

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Review: The Format – Interventions + Lullabies

How does one begin to encapsulate the meteoric rise of lead vocalist Nate Ruess’s career? Like most stories, you start at the very beginning. The Format (Nate Ruess and multi-instrumentalist Sam Means) formed in February 2002, and while their friendship goes as far back as grade school, their band chemistry was felt almost immediately. That electric-charged feeling of when a group of talented musicians come together to make art was felt far and wide in The Format. I first got wind of this band when they opened up for Jimmy Eat World and Paramore, and I found their charming mix of emo, pop, and Beach Boys-esque melodies to be immediately infectious. The Format was signed to Elektra Records for what would become their debut LP, Interventions + Lullabies, and much like many other major label artists during this period of time, the merging of record companies led to conflicts on whom the executives found worth pushing on radio, MTV, etc. The Format were ultimately left on the outside looking in when Warner Brothers (and finally Atlantic Records) had the rights to the band’s music. “The First Single” was the only song to be promoted during this album cycle, and it would remain a staple in the band’s set until their breakup in 2008.

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Review: Coheed and Cambria – In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth: 3

How exactly does a prog-emo band like Coheed and Cambria satisfy their rabid fan-base that was steadily growing by the day after the release of their debut, 2002’s The Second Stage Turbine Blade? The answer would be found by going even bigger and more grandiose. In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 was released 20 years ago via Equal Vision Records, and the expectations that fans, critics, and quote-unquote “gatekeepers of the scene” would all be blown into oblivion on Coheed’s sophomore LP. While Coheed and Cambria may have never fit the mold of the Warped Tour band-label back in the early 00’s, the scene was rapidly changing at just the right moment in time for this ultra-talented group. At the creative surface, this album was continuation of The Armory Wars trilogy, that came from the brilliant mind of front-man/guitarist/lyricist Claudio Sanchez, yet there’s so many layers to the complex storytelling found on this record that plays out in its own type of music multiverse. The album was produced by Michael Birnbaum and Chris Bittner, and their crisp production allows for the record to shimmer much like the cosmos above us that inspire science fiction stories far and wide. While their debut full-length record invited fans into the world of Coheed and Cambria, In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 blew the doors off the hinges into a cosmic exploration of what creative music can be.

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Review: Counting Crows – August & Everything After

What’s the first song you ever loved? If we’re being really honest, the answer for most of us is probably something like “Happy Birthday,” or “Jingle Bells,” or a lullaby our parents sang us when we were young. Maybe it’s something we heard in our favorite childhood TV show or Disney movie, or a nursery rhyme song, or some silly novelty ditty we learned from the other kids at daycare. Me, though? I can’t really remember ever caring about music in any fashion until I heard “Mr. Jones.”

Counting Crows are the closest I can come to saying I’ve loved a band for my entire life. Their debut album, 1993’s August & Everything After, came out 30 years ago today, a few months before my third birthday. At some point, a copy of it came into my family’s possession – and more importantly, into our Ford Expedition. In the backseat, headed home from some family day trip, I watched as my brother slid the album into the CD player and skipped to track 3.

In retrospect, “Mr. Jones” doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that would appeal to a young child’s brain. It’s verbose and meandering and takes forever to get to the chorus. Adam Duritz sings a lot of words that didn’t register any meaning to me at the time: things like “New Amsterdam” and “flamenco dancer” and “Bob Dylan.” And boy, I remember being baffled – truly baffled – by this man’s claim that grey was his favorite color. Surely, he was a liar, or maybe even crazy.

But for as bewildering and strange as I found “Mr. Jones” to be, when the song finally wound around to the hook, it enraptured me. “Mr. Jones and me/Tell each other fairytales/And we stare at the beautiful women/She’s looking at you/Oh, no no, she’s looking at me.” The melody was warm and golden and welcoming, and I fell in love with it right away. Soon, every time I was in that car, I wanted nothing more than to get the CD with the yellow cover out of the center console, skip to track 3, and take that ride again.

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Review: The All-American Rejects – The All-American Rejects

My first impressions of The All-American Rejects, and their pop-centered rock, were generally favorable. The band stormed onto the scene with their charming first single, “Swing, Swing,” that carefully swayed from swooning falsetto vocals, from frontman Tyson Ritter, to a more lush tenor sound with ease. The single seemed to be played everywhere from baseball games, to grocery stores, and it was undeniably catchy. Their self-titled LP was produced by Tim O’Heir (The Starting Line, Say Anything) and he does a nice job of accentuating the best parts of the band on this fairly straight-forward collection of songs. A little know fact about the debut is that when the album was recorded, Tyson Ritter and Nick Wheeler were the only two band members, and it was until the band would shoot their video for their debut single that they would add Mike Kennerty on rhythm guitar and Chris Gaylor on drums. This lineup is still intact to this day, and The All-American Rejects would see even greater success with their sophomore album, Move Along. The All-American Rejects would go on to sell a million copies in the United States, and solidify the band as a marquee name in the pop-rock realm for the foreseeable future. The album was recently reissued on a “Ghostly Green” vinyl that includes a bonus 7″ vinyl on “Coke Bottle Green” to further celebrate the 20+ years that have passed since this record came out.

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Review: Blessthefall – Hollow Bodies

The fourth studio album from metalcore band, Blessthefall, called Hollow Bodies was produced by Joey Sturgis (The Devil Wears Prada, Asking Alexandria) and showcased a band moving their sound closer to a blend between metal and electronica. Having listened to it again with fresh ears, albeit ten years later, the record still holds up. The sound is reminiscent of the electronica found on early Underoath albums, paired with the slick guitar hooks of Escape the Fate, and the metal-tinged leanings of Bullet For My Valentine. It all works out surprisingly well, and features the same lineup as their third album, Awakening, for the first time in consecutive records for the band. The set was released via Fearless Records and would spawn two singles, “You Wear A Crown But You’re No King” and “Deja Vu,” and debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hard Rock Albums charts. While Blessthefall wear their influences clearly on their sleeves, the product that comes out of it still feels unique and ambitious.

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Review: Dashboard Confessional – A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar

Given the direction that mainstream music has taken over the past two decades, it is virtually impossible to believe that an emo band once got big enough to land the end credits theme song slot in a blockbuster superhero movie. Just imagine what it would have been like if The Hotelier showed up in the credits of Captain America: Winter Soldier back in 2014, or if Foxing’s “Grand Paradise” started playing after everyone got dusted at the end of Avengers Infinity War in 2018. Awesome as these needle drops would have been, they also had a 0.02 chance of ever happening. In the mid-2000s, though, emo and pop-punk were riding a massive wave of popularity among teen listeners, and Dashboard Confessional parlayed that success into “Vindicated,” the anchor song for the third highest grossing film of 2004 – a little movie called Spider-Man 2. That movie and its soundtrack don’t hit the two-decade mark until next year, but the album that gave Dashboard the juice necessary to get to that mainstream milestone turns 20 this weekend. It’s called A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar, and it is hands down the best teen angst album ever made.

Dashboard Confessional were already a big deal in the emo community by the time 2003 rolled around. Between them, 2000’s The Swiss Army Romance and 2001’s The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most made Chris Carrabba – the songwriter, mastermind, and sometimes sole member of Dashboard Confessional – a bona-fide underground superstar. Carrabba wasn’t a pop star just yet, but you could’ve mistaken him for one if you caught the Dashboard Confessional MTV Unplugged special, shot in April of 2002. That show was the subject of a Ringer oral history last year, which revealed that basically the entire idea behind putting Dashboard Confessional on Unplugged in the first place was to capture the raw intensity and jaw-dropping enthusiasm of the band’s sing-along crowds. Early Dashboard shows became communal celebrations unlike anything else in the emo galaxy – celebrations where every fan knew every word of every song and belted them out loud enough to shake the stage. They might not have been the biggest band in the world, but for the people who loved them, Dashboard Confessional were a band that mattered. As in, tattoo-these-lyrics-on-my-arm, that-song-saved-my-life, this-band-is-my-religion mattered.

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Review: Yellowcard – Ocean Avenue

It’s the night before my first day of high school, and I’m feeling some feelings. Anxiety. Curiosity. Nostalgia for what I’ve left behind. Excitement for what’s to come. Just 12 hours from my first day in a brand-new school, I don’t know whether I should be scared shitless about diving into the deep end, or reveling in the anticipation of everything that comes with a new start. I know I might lose myself in the great big unknown I’m journeying into. But I also know that there’s opportunity for growth and reinvention and self-discovery waiting somewhere out there. And so, I’m staring down the first day of the rest of my life and trying to sort out the good from the bad. It’s enough to drive any 14-year-old boy mad. Thank goodness, then, for the soundtrack, which might just be the only thing keeping me sane.

I’m fond of saying that my favorite traditions are music-related traditions. I love marking different points of the year with different songs, or albums, or playlists. Holidays; anniversaries; seasonal shifts; specific runs or drives; daytrips to certain places. All these things, for me, can be tied to specific musical cues that become rituals or traditions. Every year when it gets warm enough for a windows-down car ride, for instance, I am, by personal law, required to take a drive with Jack’s Mannequin’s Everything in Transit playing very, very loud. It can’t be summer until I’ve done precisely that.

My favorite musical tradition of all time dates back to that Labor Day evening in 2005, right before I headed off to high school for the first time. I’ve always held that there is no melancholy quite like the melancholy of the last day of summer when you’re young. It’s a bit like the peculiar sadness of a Sunday evening, when you know that you have to head back to work or school the next day, but wish the fleeting freedom of the weekend could last a little longer. Except for that, in summertime, as a kid, the freedom does last a little longer – so long that it seems it might last forever. I’d felt that peculiar melancholy before – the mix of sadness at summer’s end and anticipation for the start of something new. But I’d never felt it quite as strongly as I did that day, when it seemed like I might be at the end of what constituted my true “childhood.” It felt momentous in a way, and it needed a soundtrack to capture what I was feeling: the end-of-summer ethos, the melancholy, the finality, the excitement. No one album felt fitting, so I made a playlist.

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Review: Brian May + Friends – Star Fleet Project

When Queen first took a break in the early part of 1983, Brian May decided to use this extra time in his hands to get some of his closest rock band friends for what would become the Star Fleet Project. This mini-album features Edward Van Halen (guitar), Alan Gratzer (drums), Phil Chen (bass) and Fred Mandel (keyboards), with May taking the reins of lead vocals and guitar for a crowd-pleasing set of three songs that have been reissued on a remastered vinyl collection released today. In addition to the vinyl single, the box set includes a thrilling 23-track CD filled with previously unreleased material. Brian May shared, “It’s all here. ALL of it. Every note we played on those two days is right here, on show for the first time. I will take you behind the scenes into that studio with us for two unforgettably exhilarating days.” This dedication to the project that took place on April 21-22, 1983 is remastered in pain-staking detail and care, and pulls back the curtain on one of the most beloved classic rock recordings of all time.

The record launches off with “Star Fleet,” that has a sound somewhere between the classic rock sheen of Boston, paired with the memorable guitar riffing from May. Brian May’s vocals sound as brilliant as they’ve ever been on this remastered mix and it really makes the music shine out of the gate. The other song on the A-side, called “Let Me Out,” is a bluesy rock song that is sure to make even the most skeptical music fan a believer in the chemistry May had with these legendary musicians. Not to be outdone by their early work, the back half features a gargantuan, 13-minute blues rock song on the aptly titled “Blues Breaker,” that further highlights the impressive back and forth wailing between Van Halen and May. Even without any vocals on the instrumental closing song, it remains a captivating listening experience that was meant to be played on a turntable in all its glory. The Star Fleet Sessions is getting another worthy moment in the sun, and I think we’re all better off because of this.

Review: The Darkness – Permission To Land

Flash back to the year 2003. Emo and punk bands are gaining traction in the mainstream in a way that had never been seen before, and hair metal bands seemed to be all but forgotten. So what was a band like The Darkness to believe in when record labels seemed largely disinterested in signing a band that was such an unashamed throwback to the 80’s hair metal era? The Darkness stormed onto the music scene in the fall of 2003 with a single that made major traction called “I Believe In A Thing Called Love.” The music video was hilariously ridiculous, but the music that accompanied it was a blast of guitar-driven rock & roll that sounded different than anything else on the radio. The single did so well in the United States that the band was able to book a headlining tour of major clubs that largely sold out across the country. The beauty of The Darkness’s debut, Permission To Land, was that the band never took themselves too seriously, and was willing to go all out in their love for the hair metal genre, and re-capture the spirit of the 80’s in an entirely different decade.

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Review: The Mars Volta – De-Loused in the Comatorium

Quite simply, I had never heard anything quite like The Mars Volta. I heard rumblings of a new project from former At The Drive-In members, Omar Alfredo Rodríguez-López and Cedric Bixler-Zavala, but my expectations for the music that this band would go on to release would be blown out of the water. De-Loused in the Comatorium is based on a short story by Bixler-Zavala and sound manipulation artist, Jeremy Ward, that imagines a man who enters a week-long coma after overdosing on rat poison and morphine. The record was produced by Rick Rubin (Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Strokes) and showcases a band taking extreme risks in their progressive-rock sound that exceeded any expectations that their label could have hoped for when they signed the band. The album was both a commercial and critical success that would eventually be certified gold in the United States.

From the quiet opening of “Son Et Lumiere” to the explosion of sound on the lead single, “Inertiatic ESP,” The Mars Volta would bend the minds of all who put on a pair of headphones and sat down to listen to De-Loused in the Comatorium. The band would go on to seven studio albums, with their latest being a self-titled release after a ten-year hiatus, and re-set the bar for what prog-rock could be and become a beacon for music creativity for the foreseeable future.

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Review: Jason Isbell – Southeastern

Jason Isbell - Southeastern

I needed to hear something new.

That’s how I felt in the summer of 2013, when I was just a few months out of college and already felt like I’d fucked up my whole life.

My first post-graduation “job” had been an unmitigated disaster, and my lack of employment (not to mention my dwindling bank account) had me feeling like a crash-and-burn failure. I’d felt so confident coming out of school, so sure I was bound for success. But the economy was still in tatters from the Great Recession, and jobs were hard to find – especially jobs for a green wannabe professional writer whose resume consisted solely of student jobs and internships. Days of sending out job applications and cover letters yielded no payoff, and I could sense that my girlfriend – a year ahead of me in school and already securely and gainfully employed – was getting worried about my prospects.

It was a low time in my life, made lower by the fact that the one thing I’d usually turn to during times of crisis – music – didn’t seem to be working like it used to work. Every song or album just reminded me of better times, times when I’d felt more hopeful, more happy, more alive. Every familiar artist that had once felt like an old friend now felt like someone who was mocking my ineptitude at finding a way to get on with my life.

So, I needed to hear something new. I needed to discover artists who would be new companions for this particular chapter of my life, artists whose music would help inspire me for a new fight without reminding me so much of where I’d been. I was a “grown up” now – whatever that means – and my new movie needed a different soundtrack from the old ones. Who would be the artist to break down the wall and make me feel something again, other than a bitter-tasting pill of nostalgia?

Enter Jason Isbell.

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Review: Third Eye Blind – Out Of The Vein

Third Eye Blind found themselves at a bit of a crossroads when the time came to write the follow-up to two successful records: their stunning self-titled LP and Blue. Longtime guitarist/songwriter, Kevin Cadogan, was replaced with Tony Fredianelli and Out of the Vein would be the second album in a row without an outside producer. The band’s chemistry somehow didn’t suffer on this album that most 3EB fans rank very highly when looking back on the full breadth of the band’s discography. The album was recorded at their own Mourning Wood Studios in San Francisco, and Stephan Jenkins admitted that nearly 40 songs were written during the pre-production sessions that would become their third LP. Originally called Crystal Baller, but scrapped because everyone outside of Jenkins hated the name, Out of the Vein would solidify the band as one of the premiere acts in Alternative Rock history. The record was supposed to be released in early 2002, but the mounting pressure to live up to the legacy left behind on their first two albums led to several lyric re-writes. Ultimately, these growing pains worked out in the band’s favor creatively, even as their label (Elektra Records) imploded right as Third Eye Blind would release the record. Out of the Vein may not have the sheen of Blue, or the bulletproof legacy of their self-titled debut, but it still features several great Third Eye Blind songs that have stood the test of time.

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Review: Fall Out Boy – Take This To Your Grave

You never forget your first love. Sure, they may leave you heartbroken and picking up the pieces of where to turn to next, but those scars cut deep. Fall Out Boy arrived on the pop-punk scene with their debut LP, called Take This To Your Grave, that featured slick hooks and sing-a-long choruses that made this band destined for superstardom. The band was technically signed to Island Records through a “first-ever incubator type of deal” that gave them money to sign a one-off record deal to put their debut out on Fueled By Ramen to grow a steady following before their major label debut. This seemed to pay off big time for both Fall Out Boy and Island Records, as the band would become one of the hottest acts around by the time From Under The Cork Tree was released. The now-iconic cover photo of the band sitting on a broken futon was actually the second choice from the label, as the initial concept of a live photo was rejected. The lyrical material is largely based around fractured relationships, falling in and out of love, and traveling, while it became a point of contention between bassist Pete Wentz and lead vocalist Patrick Stump. During the recording of the LP, Wentz and Stump argued for days on end about the direction of the lyrics, but they ultimately believe that through this conflict came something beautiful.

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