Alex Lahey ‘s brand new album, The Best Of Luck Club, couldn’t come at a better time. Released on the eve of the Australian federal election, Lahey confronts the pains of millennial struggles through her universal approach to songwriting. She seamlessly integrates the personal and couples it with anthemic, searing pop-punk melodies. Like her stunning debut, I Love You Like A Brother, Lahey demonstrates that she holds numerous smashing hooks under her belt. The Best Of Luck Club picks up where Lahey left off, but races forward. There’s more ballads, unexpected instrumentation, and the lyricism we’ve come to know, and love is even greater.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Now that the NBA Playoffs have begun, Elevated: The Global Rise of the NBA arrives at the perfect time. The book takes a look at the history of the league through the lens of the New York Times writers who have covered the sports over the decades, as edited and annotated by Harvey Araton. Due to the nature of the book, you won’t find one specific writing style throughout. Although, there’s a high level of quality to the writing and you get a look at how the writers have changed their approach to covering the sport as new things like social media came into play.
Since I’m someone who doesn’t have a subscription to the New York Times, I otherwise would not have been able to read many of these articles. It’s an excellent chance for NBA fans to get a look into how devoted one publication was to covering a variety of teams, not just the ones in the New York area. You’ll find articles from the 1970s, to ones as recent as 2018, and everything in between. However, don’t expect the story to unfold in chronological order.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
About halfway through Angel Du$t’s jovial third album Pretty Buff, vocalist Justice Tripp is marching to his own beat on the sunny “Bang My Drum” – literally. “I asked my baby girl to stay/She left and took my drum away/Got so many feelings now/I got no way to let it out” bellows Tripp over upbeat acoustic strums and a goddamn saxophone solo. It’s a stark contrast to the Baltimore band’s pummeling 2016 release Rock The Fuck On Forever, as the band (featuring members of hardcore champions Trapped Under Ice and Turnstile) trade in the aggression for some alt-leaning pop-rock reminiscent of seminal 90s bands such as The Lemonheads, R.E.M. and the Violent Femmes.
There are some things that come stock with being a human. For example, youthfulness is an inherent birthmark that time can never truly erase. The Maine’s 2017 release, Lovely, Little, Lonely, reminded us that loneliness is not a feeling exhibited exclusively by those who happen to be alone. But if that piercing solitude is just one more needle somehow stitching us to one another, then why is it still so easy to feel so … isolated? It’s the thousand-yard stare into your reflection with that prospective new shirt on. The nights spent laying just a little too still, the ones that can only be described as hours of staring into the back of your eyelids. The heart-fluttering hesitation in confronting yourself with the question “is this where I want to be?” In the end, the sentiment of inadequacy will always remain an individual cross to bear. It’s a distinct brand of discomfort that illusively seems to stem from a series of our commonalities as humans, but that, in reality, is near impossible to divorce from our unique personal experiences.
And let’s be real: the past few years have given us every reason to become lost in that discomfort. Often in a perpetual state of examining the importance of mental health while becoming increasingly aware of the very things that deteriorate it.