Review

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.

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.

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.

Review: Cowboy Diplomacy – The Get Down

Cowboy Diplomacy - The Get Down

On the lead single from Cowboy Diplomacy, “The Get Down” rocks with the urgency of roots-rock bands such as The Revivalists and Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, with mostly favorable results. The song itself is built around the guitar licks of lead guitarist Billy Boswell and lead vocalist/guitarist Ian Cochran, and some foot-stomping percussion from drummer Matt Whilden. After the introductory lyrics kick in, a blast of horns and good vibes fill out the single introducing Cowboy Diplomacy to the world.

Review: Holy Holy – My Own Pool Of Light

Holy Holy - My Own Pool Of Light

Holy Holy is no longer content with being known as “another bunch of blokes onstage rocking,” according to guitarist and producer, Oscar Dawson. With their third album, My Own Pool Of Light, they’ve banished the traditional rock music they’re celebrated for. In 2017, the duo’s sophomore album, Paint – a guitar-based album immersed in new-wave glory, peaked at #7 on the ARIA Australian Albums Chart, with lead single “Darwinism” becoming the most-played track on Australian national youth radio station, triple j. Two years later, Holy Holy is driven higher and further.

My Own Pool Of Light contains the best collection of stories in Holy Holy’s career. The propulsive bass featured in previous tracks like “Willow Tree” is much more prominent, directing the unyielding rhythm of the hit single, “Faces.” The duo, alongside permanent drummer Ryan Strathie, employs drum loops and sampled beats. For the first time, Carroll opts to pitch-shift his vocals. Holy Holy have also brought in some good friends, including Gab Strum (Japanese Wallpaper) on synths, and back up singers, Ainslie Wills and Ali Barter. From the powerful opening drums and synth-laden mourning of album opener, “Maybe You Know” to the quietly devastating closer, “St Petersburg” Holy Holy graciously shift from their past; while promising another luscious, fulfilling journey.

Review: Of Monsters and Men – Fever Dream

Of Monsters and Men

Now three albums into their career, Of Monsters and Men have all but abandoned their happy-go-lucky and charming takes on indie rock in favor of stadium-ready pop anthems on Fever Dream. The first lyrics on the LP are telling as lead singer Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir opens with, “I see color/Raining down/Feral feeling/Swaying sound/But I don’t know what you want.” The entire record is filled with much brighter moments than we have come to expect from the Icelandic band, and this album turns out to be their best to date.

Coming off of two successful records in My Head is an Animal and Beneath the Skin, Of Monsters and Men could have very well made a similar sounding record for their third effort. However, never ones to be complacent with what they have accomplished before, the band took it upon themselves to push themselves to their creative limits on Fever Dream. Co-produced by the group and under the trusted tutelage of Rich Costey (Frank Turner, Foster the People), Of Monsters and Men have fully embraced the pop underlining that were embedded in their earlier work and made a record worthy of the size of the venues they are playing this fall.

Review: Night Riots – New State of Mind

Night Riots

The state of the world we are living in requires many outside distractions to cope, live, and find a way to be happy in general. On New State of Mind, Night Riots provide plenty of lush musical landscapes to help remind us the beauty of well-crafted pop-rock songs with deeper meanings behind each track. Now that their new record has arrived, Night Riots seem poised for making a significant statement in the music scene with an album that sounds simultaneously professional, dynamic, and captivating all from the first listen.

Never a stranger to the darker tones and mystery surrounding the after-hours nightlife that were presented in their earlier material, New State of Mind is surprisingly bright. Led by the atmospheric album artwork that finds the cover model finding the beauty within herself, there are several songs with massive textural feelings and dual meanings within them. The album was co-produced by Eric Palmquist (Thrice, Bad Suns) and Night Riots, and the production elements showcase a band painting with broad, colorful strokes; never afraid of taking a calculated risk along the way.

Review: Sum 41 – Order in Decline

Sum 41 - Order in Decline

On their seventh studio album, Order in Decline, Sum 41 wastes little time in describing the state of the world we are living in. And they do a great job of summarizing the feeling of growing up in a country where the leader seems to suck the life out of everything that we once held so dear. Sum 41 have delivered their late career masterpiece and they have never sounded better in this mixture of punk, metal, and rock that pulsates with immediacy and a strong call to action from their fan-base. The styles they have teased and tinkered with over their career come to full fruition on this record that finally realizes the band’s full potential.

Even from the first few riffs delivered on “Turning Away,” Sum 41 rock with a confident swagger found in scene mainstays such as Green Day, while still showcasing vulnerability and a human element behind their words. Deryck Whibley sings in the first powerful chorus, “I’m turning away/Because I feel like I can’t go on, while we’re living in this lie/And when all of my faith is gone, I don’t even want to try/There’s nothing that you could say, that could ever change my mind/And will all of these steps I take, it’s giving me back my life.” There’s a lot to unpack here, as we know Whibley nearly lost his battle to alcohol addiction and had a long road to recovery to fight for his life, much less his career as a touring musician in a successful band. Whibley sounds re-focused, refreshed, and doesn’t appear to want to let his new outlook on life go to waste any time soon.

Review: 311 – Voyager

311 - Voyager

As a life-long 311 fan, I approached Voyager with more optimism than most. I looked forward to each of their releases every other summer and would typically be one of the first ones to purchase their new music on the street date. Over time, even as my taste in music gravitated towards punk/emo-tinged rock, 311 remained a band I would find myself coming back to as spring came to a close. With multiple summer tours packing amphitheaters across the US, 311 have always benefited from a patient listening base. This album should do little to change their devout fans’ opinions on the direction the band is going. The fact remains that at thirteen albums in their career, they may have played things a little too safe on Voyager.

Review: The Covasettes – It’s Always Sunny Above The Clouds

The Covasettes

The Manchester-based indie rock band, The Covasettes come bursting onto the music scene with the brightly colored EP It’s Always Sunny Above the Clouds. With it’s Care Bear-styled cover art, I was initially unsure of what to expect from the band that I was introduced to. However, The Covasettes quickly won me over with the core influences of Arctic Monkeys, The Killers, and Coldplay that are felt warmly as they create a wonderful collection of songs. The four-piece band is comprised of lead vocalist/guitarist Chris Buxton, lead guitarist Matt Hewlett, bassist Jamie McIntyre, and drummer Matt Buckley, and their chemistry as a unit comes across undeniably on this record.

Review: Two Door Cinema Club – False Alarm

Two Door Cinema Club

On their fourth studio album Two Door Cinema Club fully embrace the 80’s synth and colorful pop that they hinted at on 2016’s Gameshow. False Alarm paints the Northern Irish indie rock band as a group that is willing to take calculated risks and have a blast while doing so. Whereas other artists may find their comfort in a familiar sound from album to album, Two Door Cinema Club have little issue with experimenting with a variety of new ideas and fresh takes on their songwriting.