It’s hard to overstate just how tumultuous the past decade of Paramore’s career has been. Since before the recording of Brand New Eyes the band has been regularly rocked by near career-ending shifts. While some bands are lucky enough to go through no lineup changes throughout their career, or when lineup changes do happen the splits are often amicable, Paramore has had no such luck. I don’t need to rehash any of the details of this unrest except to say this: While the turmoil would crush almost any other band, the members that have remained, or returned, to Paramore have fought through all adversity to arrive at After Laughter, the crowning achievement of their career so far.
At once a deeply wistful look back at the past decade-plus of the band’s history and a clear eyed assessment of the future, After Laughter is a record about the moments between total heartbreak and absolute elation. These in-between moments allow us to pick up the pieces broken during the former and come down from the euphoric high of the latter, and reassess what our purpose is here on this floating rock. These moments make up the vast totality of our time on Earth, but for some reason they don’t often feel as romantic.
Super American return with their new album, Disposable. The songs are jams through and through. “Sloppy Jazz” opens the album with a high energy. The EP contains seven songs and each of them offers something to catch your ear. Whether it’s the melody or lyrics, Super American has it covered. You’ll be wanting to sing along to these songs after the first listen. And the lyrics are simple, but still thoughtful, enough to quickly learn them.
“And the old hippie?”
“The old hippie’s out there somewhere, yeah. Gives me a call every once in a while. ‘Hey, I heard your song about me, kid…”
“Did he say that?”
“And what did he think?”
“[I said] Just wait until you hear the rest, buddy.”
That is an excerpt from Mac DeMarco’s recent interview on WTF with Marc Maron. Maron is known for his very conversational approach to interviewing, and he and DeMarco laugh throughout the conversation – even when discussing DeMarco’s absent father, the overarching theme of DeMarco’s (technically third) full-length LP, This Old Dog. This attitude is reflective of the album. If there’s anything DeMarco is known for, beloved or despised for, it’s his onstage persona and antics. From vulgar classic rock covers to interviews with his mother, DeMarco’s goofball personality is almost certainly what strikes you first and foremost, but it’s his undeniable penchant for vintage guitar and synth sounds that keeps you invested.
A former punk, hardcore, and metalcore singer from Tulsa, Oklahoma, John Moreland made one of the greatest and most pervasively sad country records of the decade so far with 2015’s High on Tulsa Heat. “I’m so damn good at sorrow,” he sang in one of the LP’s key tracks, and he was right. Most of the songs were driven by little more than acoustic guitar and voice, and the lyrics were so heavy and despairing that the record was tough to listen to more than once in a multi-day span. If you were hurting for just about any reason, though, that album could be your best friend.
No artist has ever had a success story quite like that of Chris Stapleton. Two years ago this week, Stapleton released his debut album, a 14-track collection of old school country, blues, southern rock, and soul called Traveller. The album didn’t arrive without buzz: Stapleton was one of the most dependable songwriters in Nashville, a guy with (at the time) four number one country hits to his name. He also made his record with Dave Cobb, the producer who had helped Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson craft breakthrough, critically-beloved albums the two years previous. The result was a number 14 debut on the Billboard 200 with 27,000 copies sold; not remarkable, but not bad for a debut artist, either.
In 2006, New Found Glory took their biggest risk as a band by releasing Coming Home, an album that largely abandoned the band’s customary pop-punk/easycore stylings. Produced by Thon Panunzio, Coming Home introduced more straight-forward rock elements that included keys, pianos, and strings – not surprising considering Panunzio has worked with some of the biggest rock legends of all time (Ozzy, Bruce, Joan Jett, etc.). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the album fell flat commercially and was also the band’s last album to be released on a major label. But creatively and critically it was a success as Coming Home has been regarded as the band’s most daring effort of their career and let the pop-punk world know that New Found Glory would never make the same album twice. It also planted the seeds of what was to come ten years later.
The Maine has come a long way since the release of their debut full-length album, Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop. In the past decade they’ve grown from young kids with a dream into truly talented musicians – a fact that is evident in their latest album Lovely, Little, Lonely.
Even though each song on Lovely, Little Lonely is a hit in its own right, they make the most sense within the context of the whole. The album flows seamlessly from one song to the next and as a result The Maine succeeds in crafting a story that demands your full attention from start to finish.
Jesse Cannon’s latest book takes a look at the creative process and how to get results that you’re happy with. While it focuses largely on music, it can easily apply to so much more than that. Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With isn’t a behemoth of a book like Get More Fans, but it’s equally as effective. The book takes you through the motions of finding who is a best fit to work with, how to make music you’re happy with, and so much more.
What the hell, John?
Let’s journey back for a moment to New Year’s Day, when John Mayer told the world via his Instagram account that his new album, The Search for Everything, would be coming in four-song waves “every month.” Mayer never explicitly said that he would be releasing 48 songs in 2017, but he definitely implied it. Strongly.
What he actually did was release two four-song waves—in January and February, respectively—and then announce a full-length album that would include all those songs, plus a few more. At this point, no one is sure whether Mayer will be continuing with the waves for the rest of the year or not. I don’t think Mayer even knows. On the one hand, CD versions of the new album label it “Vol. 1.” On the other hand, Mayer tweeted on release day: “And that ends an era: August ’14-April ’17.” Since The Search for Everything is an album about Mayer’s breakup with Katy Perry, and since the album is very much a “complete thought” on its own, there seems to be little reason that Mayer would continue this release cycle in any fashion.
“I think most peoples’ idea of authenticity is pork pie hats and vests and banjos and whatever else, but real authenticity is just empathy, because everyone views their own experiences as being the golden standard for authenticity. If you can empathize with people and make them feel like what you’re talking about is somehow reflective of their own experiences, then you’ve won their vanity, and thus achieved authenticity.”
This is a quote from Father John Misty’s episode of Pitchfork’s Over/Under series, a series Josh Tillman jokingly referred to as a “twisted game” as he and his wife were asked to rate such concepts as self-control, marriage, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. This was Tillman’s explanation of “authenticity,” and though he never formally “rates” the concept, his answer may outline the biggest problem with Pure Comedy, his third album under the FJM moniker. It’s not necessarily Tillman’s polarizing personality (or character, as some call it). It’s not the album’s excessive 74-minute runtime, or even its questionable sequencing.
Put simply, it’s hard to empathize with someone who’s talking down to you.
Third Eye Blind’s self-titled is simultaneously one of the most joyful albums I’ve ever heard and one of the most heartbreaking. The first half of the record is stacked with infectiously catchy pop-rock songs—most of which became hit singles. The latter half is more jagged and mid-tempo, with songs that sound noticeably darker and more subdued. Half the songs wouldn’t sound out of place on a summertime party playlist. The other half are songs that ache with such profound loneliness that listening to them with a group of people almost seems sacrilegious. And, as is the trademark of frontman Stephen Jenkins, even some of the songs that sound happy are actually crushing.
Third Eye Blind is a much more complex record than I thought it was when I first heard it, and I’d reckon that something similar holds true for most people. Frankly, early on, it was easy to hear Third Eye Blind’s music as little more than catchy radio rock. In the summer of 1997, “Semi-Charmed Life” rode the infectiousness of its “doo doo doo” hook to the number one slot on Billboard’s Mainstream Top 40 chart. At six years old, I thought it was the catchiest song I’d ever heard. At 26 years old, I still think it’s the catchiest song I’ve ever heard. There might not be a single song that makes me think more of summertime than that one.
Steve Moakler’s biggest claim to fame—at least at this particular moment in time—is writing the title track and fifth single from Dierks Bentley’s 2014 LP, Riser. That fact may just change with Steel Town, Moakler’s fourth full-length solo record and his most accomplished work yet. Stacked with radio-friendly numbers that meld Moakler’s smart, resonant songwriting with the hooks and lush instrumentation of a mainstream country record, Steel Town has the potential to make Moakler into this year’s breakout country star.
Steel Town is 11 songs long, but Moakler actually released the first half of the record a year ago. In a move that has become customary for Nashville up-and-comers, Moakler dropped a self-titled EP last spring that featured the first five tracks from this album. (Similar maneuvers have recently helped launch artists like Maren Morris, Brett Young, and William Michael Morgan toward chart success.) That EP was my favorite short-form release of 2016, pairing wistful, emotional tour de forces (“Steel Town,” which Moakler wrote about the town where he grew up) with breezy summertime hooks (the indelible “Suitcase”) and gorgeous dusky ballads (“Summer Without Her”).
As Sorority Noise’s Triple Crown Records debut and the full-length follow up to the wildly popular Joy, Departed, You’re Not As ___ As You Think is an important album. But this is a band that has never been afraid to take risks – one that has continuously pushed themselves with each new release – and it shows in their latest effort.
From the conversational nature of lyricist/vocalist Cameron Boucher’s songwriting to the open-endedness of the album’s title, Sorority Noise actively invites listeners to insert themselves into each song. Boucher frequently plays with perspective and often address listeners directly, reminding each person who hits play that they have value and that they are more than their insecurities.
For over a decade now, Topshelf Records have done a fantastic job of seeking out the best in up-and-coming talent, especially within the indie/emo scenes. From Into It. Over It. and Sorority Noise, to Touché Amore and You Blew It, they just seem to have a knack for finding bands with incredible potential.
In 2015 they signed Del Paxton, a quirky indie rock group from upstate New York with an affinity for hazy guitars and rousing melodies. The band recently released their debut full-length album All Day, Every Day, All Night, a solid first showing from the fairly young trio.
I still remember when I was first introduced to Culprit. And since that first show I’ve seen them in various venues around Los Angeles and Orange County. Each time, they leave it all on the stage and that’s what makes them a band I continue to follow. It’s been a long wait for a full-length but that wait comes to an end with the release of Sonder.
“Gargantua” starts with a radio transmission that’s like something out of a sci-fi horror movie. From there, Travis brings a stellar vocal performance that is consistent throughout the whole album. The way this band puts together a song — vocally, lyrically, and musically — just meshes so well. Not to mention, they have a good amount of versatility. “Gargantua” ends with a long scream from Travis, but not one that detracts from the song. For someone who isn’t a fan of songs with a ton of screaming, Culprit knows when it’s appropriate and when it’s not needed at all. In a song like “Glow,” Travis takes a softer approach to the vocals.
When the world got blown apart on the morning of September 11th, 2001, it felt like nothing would ever be the same again. In a lot of ways, it wouldn’t. Even at 10 years old, I knew there was a sense of innocence and wonder to the world that was stolen the moment that first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. How could anything ever be okay again after something so terrible? Even as a child, I pondered this question.
For years after that day, I would read about the reactions to the tragedy. Shortly after I graduated from high school in 2009, I read a speech that Dr. Karl Paulnack of The Boston Conservatory gave to the parents of incoming students in September 2004. In the address, Paulnack reflected on his experience on the morning of September 12th, 2001, when he—a classical pianist by trade—went to sit down at his instrument to practice. It was part of his daily routine, but on that day, it felt wrong. “Playing the piano right now, given what happened in this city yesterday, seems silly, absurd, irreverent, pointless,” Paulnack recalled. “What place has a musician in this moment in time?”
Mark Kozelek doesn’t like what I do. This was made abundantly clear somewhere between Universal Themes’ “Cry Me a River Williamsburg Sleeve Tattoo Blues” and Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood’s “Philadelphia Cop,” in which the song breaks for a strange skit between a “music journalist” and an outdated impression of a teenage girl (both voiced by Kozelek). It’s true; things have gotten pretty weird between Kozelek and in followers since the release of his recent opus, 2014’s Benji. He’s publicly lashed out against music journalists, other artists, and an entire North Carolina audience. Truth be told, he couldn’t give a shit whether or not I “recommend” his new album or not. So why do I continue to be so drawn to it?
Connecticut’s A Will Away describes their sound as “80’s pop rock on Acid.” As far as their hooks go: that’s a pretty apt description. Their instrumentation owes more to the emo revival and 90’s grunge than the shiny, synthesized pop of Genesis and A-Ha, but their ability to craft vocal melodies that leave lyrics permanently stuck in your head is indeed a product of the 80’s.
Since 2002, Minus the Bear have released a string of fairly consistent, ambitious (if not always successful) albums that navigate the shared ground between math-rock, prog-rock and groove-based dance numbers. Each album tweaked its predecessor’s formula enough to keep the band interesting and listeners on their toes. Even Infinity Overhead, which dropped the band’s penchant for experimentation in favor of a more straightforward, pop-rock hybrid sound, ultimately contained more hits than misses (and a few career highlights). VOIDS is the first album to flip this formula on its head and double down on its misses. Largely built on filler, it leaves listeners somewhere between disappointment and relief that it took the band this long to hit their weak spot.
Ryan Adams made what was, to my ears, his best record ever with 2014’s self-titled effort. More diverse and consistent than Heartbreaker and less bloated than Gold, Love Is Hell, and Cold Roses, Ryan Adams was a tight, taut, and tense collection of songs that saw Adams dealing with the loss of his grandmother and the pressures of a troubled marriage. Two and a half years later, the once-prolific Adams returns with the proper follow-up to his self-titled record, and it’s the closest he’s ever come to making a sequel. Prisoner carries many of the sonic and lyrical hallmarks of its predecessor, from the reverb-heavy production to the clear influence of 1980s Springsteen and Petty records. “Do You Still Love Me,” the opener and lead single, even bears a strong resemblance to the last record’s first track, “Gimme Something Good.”