A Whole Fucking Lifetime of This is a sort of new beginning for Sam Ray. While it isn’t a far cry from the sound that made the band (previously known as Teen Suicide) popular, with a charming lo-fi pop sound, it takes American Pleasure Club to totally new heights and finds them incorporating a host of new influences into their style.
For the better part of the 2010’s, it’s been a apparent that Pianos Become the Teeth are a special band. Their particular blend of lyricism, coupled with their ebb-and-flow instrumental intensity has earned them a place in the hearts of emo and hardcore fans alike. In 2009, the band’s first full-length Old Pride introduced Pianos as students of 90’s screamo, quickly followed by 2011’s The Lack Long After, which was masterclass in Melodic Hardcore. Their previous full-length, 2014’s Keep You traded in the strained yelps and anger for a more reserved sound. The post-rock influences that had been peppered throughout the band’s catalog were on full display, with the melodic, sung vocals taking center stage for the first time. A change in sound like this was considered a huge risk in “the scene” at this time, and it payed off fantastically. So now in 2018, we’ve been gifted with another LP from the Baltimore, MD band, one where they double down on the things that made Keep You their greatest record, and continue to experiment within the new sonic landscape they’ve carved out for themselves.
Dating back to their debut extended play in 2002, a certain duality has always existed in Senses Fail’s music. For perhaps the first decade of their career, that duality was mainly applied to how the band balanced its pop-punk and hardcore roots across thirteen or so tracks on an album, as frontman Buddy Nielsen’s lyrics trended more on the nihilistic side of things. But their fifth album, 2013’s Renacer, felt like a spiritual awakening for Nielsen, as that duality started to transition over to his lyricism. 2015’s Pull The Thorns From Your Heart followed that same path as Nielsen championed living and thinking positivitely over the negative.
Which brings us to Senses Fail’s seventh full-length album, If There Is Light, It Will Find You. It is the culmination of numerous line-up switches and life-changing experiences, as it is the first record to be solely written by Nielsen. Many of the band’s peers have risen and fallen (or never risen at all) over the nearly two decades of Senses Fail career, yet the band continues to not only survive but thrive, releasing their best album yet.
Not too long ago, Brian Fallon sounded like he was broken. Get Hurt, The Gaslight Anthem’s fifth (and as-yet, last) album, sounded like a band on its last legs. Written and recorded in the wake of a grueling, never-ending tour schedule—as well as Fallon’s divorce from his first wife—Get Hurt felt like the end of something. When Fallon resurfaced on 2015’s Painkillers, his solo debut, he was retreating from the fallout of it all. “I don’t want to survive/I want a wonderful life” he sang in the first single, but the most revealing line came on the closing track: “You can’t make me whole/I have to find that on my own.” That song, and that album as a whole, were the sounds of a man whose recovery was still a work in progress.
Sleepwalkers, Fallon’s sophomore solo LP, is the natural conclusion to the trilogy that began on Get Hurt. It’s also the most wholly satisfying album of the three, blowing up an array of different influences to make the most vibrant, lively LP that Fallon has put his name on since the early Gaslight Anthem days.
Despite being bruised, stitched, and severed, the hand that adorns the cover of Tiny Moving Parts’ fourth LP, Swell, is still just trying to hang loose. That image is probably the most accurate summary of the Minnesota trio’s music. After garnering a dedicated fanbase with their first two releases, the band received more attention with their very solid 2016 album, Celebrate. Two years later, Tiny Moving Parts is back with their most consistent work yet, a sizzling ten track album that flawlessly blends the ethos of midwest emo with the energy of contemporary pop-punk.
Swell is frenetic from the very start, as opener “Applause” explodes behind Dylan Mattheisen’s charging, intricate riffs. Big choruses and soaring bridges burst throughout with contagious energy, with the occasional synthesizer or trombone thrown in the background for a little extra punch. It’s reminiscent of Tell All Your Friends – those dramatic moments emphasized by synth flourishes and sleek keyboard melodies (the urgent “Smooth It Out” and the bombastic “Whale Watching” are prime examples). First single “Caution” is dynamic in a way that recollects memories of the band’s first album, while the blistering “Malfunction” features some of Mattheisen’s best tapping to date.
More than any band I’ve ever loved, I associate The Dangerous Summer with a specific time and place. For three tumultuous summers, as I flailed about recklessly in the no-man’s land between youth and adulthood, there was no band on the planet that meant more to me. The summer of 2009 was encapsulated in the strains of their debut, Reach for the Sun, which caught me in the wake of my high school graduation as I wondered what the next chapter would hold. Their sophomore record, War Paint, played a similar role in the summer of 2011, which followed the worst semester of my life and forced me to question my dreams, my college major, and my entire view of my future. The summer in between was the one where I fell in love with the girl who I would marry, and I still remember driving home late at night from her house, feeling every note and every word of songs like “Northern Lights” and “Never Feel Alone.”
The Dangerous Summer never meant as much to me outside of those summers, or away from that town. This band was the soundtrack of growing up and of magical, lively Julys and Augusts in the town where I grew up—summers where the nights seemed to stretch on forever and the possibilities felt like they were truly endless. Once I finished college and left my hometown behind, it felt like The Dangerous Summer might not have anything left to say about my life. Hearing them again in the summer 2013—the summer after I finished college and tried to make a play for adulthood and the “real world”—the songs played like pale imitations of what I’d loved before. True, that year’s Golden Record was simply a sizable step down from the band’s peak. Even if it hadn’t been, though, I’m not sure it would have resonated with me personally. Again, this was a “time and place” band, and hearing them outside of that time and away from that place felt almost grotesque. It made me miss everything I’d left behind.
After putting out an EP a year for the past four years, Toy Cars are finally ready to release their debut full-length. Paint Brain, which more than doubles the band’s catalog, is the clear culmination of where they’ve been headed since the Red HandsEP. If you haven’t been paying attention, allow me to explain exactly where it is they’ve been headed. Paint Brain occupies the space between rock and roll bands like The Menzingers (yeah, I know) and The Gaslight Anthem, and overlaps with emo acts like The Hotelier or Oso Oso. It feels equally fresh and familiar.
Tonight Alive are back with their new album, Underworld. This album is clearly an evolution in the band’s sound as much as it is an evolution in lead singer Jenna McDougall’s mindset.
Underworld is highlighted by McDougall’s vocals, vocals that are illuminated in the best way possible through a crystal clear recording with no apparent studio trickery. The album was largely recorded in Thailand with Dave Petrovic and it highlights the band’s growing maturity — delving into concepts such as depression and negativity with honesty and hope.
When I listen to Champagne Colored Cars, I’m reminded of one of 2016’s biggest surprises for me, Tiny Moving Parts’ Celebrate. Both Celebrate and Champagne Colored Cars’ debut self-titled EP are mathy emo albums with more than just a little post-hardcore influence – but both manage to be so much damn fun. Now, to be sure, Champagne Colored Cars is significantly less technical than anything Tiny Moving Parts has ever released, and to me, that’s a bit of a bonus; it gets tiring sometimes when every band wants to be “American Football But Heavy.”
Gleemer’s Anymore would be a great album to listen to even if they just had straight guitar, bass, and drums playing. However, the music is so much deeper than that. There’s an atmospheric sound in the background that sweeps through the entire record. “Basketball Casino” sets the tone for what to expect musically.
The band itself grew from a solo project that guitarist and vocalist Corey Coffman was working on. From there, he made a strong connection with Charlie O’Neil and that’s when Anymore really came into formation. The duo did everything out of a home studio, and this album sounds far from being just some DIY project someone recorded at home. These guys know what they’re doing when it comes to making a record sound good. The band’s lineup includes Nick and Joey, as well.
The top two bestselling albums in country music this year are both by the same guy. Chris Stapleton’s From A Room: Volume 1 (released back in May) and Traveller (released all the way back in May 2015) are unstoppable juggernauts despite the fact that neither ever notched a major radio hit. Depending on just how strong the Stapleton support is throughout the holiday season, there’s an outside chance he could own the entire top three for 2017, thanks to the fact that he just released his second album of the year: From A Room: Volume 2.
A cynical person would see Stapleton’s decision to release two albums in the same year as a shameless ploy to sell more records. There probably is something of a calculated approach there, given that Stapleton 1) still sells albums at all, and 2) thrives on full-length statements rather than singles. What’s probably truer, though, is that Stapleton just cut a lot of quality material while in the studio with producer extraordinaire Dave Cobb, and wanted to put it all out there for his fans to enjoy.
While he’s been coy about the exact details, Bono apparently almost died in 2017.
In general, it’s been a rough few years for the frontman of the world’s biggest rock band. The backlash against U2’s last record, 2014’s Songs of Innocence, was perhaps fiercer than for any other album released this decade (though the hate was more for the gung-ho iTunes release strategy than for the actual music). Then, a few months later, Bono crashed his bike, fractured his face, and shattered his arm. The injury, he later said, may have put a permanent end to his guitar playing days.
Still, neither Bono nor U2 have slowed down much. If anything, they sped up. This year, the band zipped around the globe playing The Joshua Tree for its 30th anniversary. Even at a relatively brief (by U2 standards) 51 dates, the tour grossed $316 million—enough to be the year’s highest grossing concert tour. Meanwhile, U2 have spent months tinkering with Songs of Experience, the sequel to their maligned 2014 album, which was supposed to come out a year ago. Even with the 12-month delay, Songs of Experience still arrives just three years and two months after its predecessor—the band’s briefest album-to-album gap since the early 1990s.
“Rap is the new rock n’ roll,” Kanye West declared in a passionate 2013 interview with Zane Lowe, and whether you like it or not, he’s right. Any passing glance at how Top 40 has change over the past 35 years will confirm mainstream radio’s transition into pop and hip-hop. Even major rock releases this year from genre mainstays like Foo Fighters and Weezer were quickly set aside in favor of the stronger, more youthful voices of artists like Open Mike Eagle and Big K.R.I.T.
Ultimately, this leads us to a larger conversation centered around age, privilege and politics, but short of (re)writing a thesis about the importance of hip-hop in 2017, I offer you this: rock music, as a general genre tag, is dead in the water. Where it continues to thrive, however, is in niche markets – select corners of internet forums like this one and on DIY airwaves, where new bands attempting to revive everything from dream-pop to post-punk are offered equal opportunities to share their vintage visions. One such place is DKFM, an L.A.-based radio station operated by shoegaze blog When The Sun Hits, where cuts from Kindling’s massive new album, Hush, have become regular rotation.
There’s a moment on “Sour Breath,” one of the many highlights on Julien Baker’s second album Turn Out The Lights, where the strings swell, the guitar strums pick up, and Baker’s vocals slowly build until the floor drop outs from under us and her voice breaks through the silence – “The harder I swim, the faster I sink.” It’s a jaw-dropping moment in an album that’s full of them. And stringing those moments together are cathartic confessions throughout Turn Out The Lights – an once-in-a-lifetime album that’ll leave you speechless.
Turn Out The Lights – once again self-produced by Baker – possesses a richer, fuller sound than 2015’s Sprained Ankle while still maintaining its intimate, minimal appeal. The imagery on the album is stunning and the album’s eleven tracks continues to accurately paint a picture of living with depression while struggling with the idea that she’s been rejected by romantic partners, close friends, God, and even herself. Songs like the title track, “Happy To Be Here,” and “Hurt Less” depict those thoughts perfectly.
The album’s title track is a deconstruction of what it can feel like to live with depression. “There’s a hole in the drywall still not fixed. I just haven’t gotten around to it. And besides I’m starting to get used to the gap” is an incredibly accurate look at existing with functional depression while the lyrics “So you wish you could find some way to help. Don’t be so hard on myself. So why is it easy for everyone else?” recalls the outside world’s infuriating interpretation of it. And it’s the song’s haunting conclusion that acknowledges the album’s overall battle, as Baker reveals, “When I turn out the lights there’s no one left between myself and me.”
There are certain albums that represent milestones in people’s musical development. Ones that trigger a rush of nostalgia more powerful than just the simple recollection of a memory. There are a couple that I can think of off the top of my head that bring me back to a time and a place, but none more powerfully than Motion City Soundtrack’s 2007 LP, Even if it Kills Me. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit, I wasn’t a fan of the band before this. I was just starting to develop my own taste in music. I wasn’t quite over my Metallica phase and not quite ready to throw myself headfirst into any of the scenes I eventually would in High School. I was in sixth grade, I had yet to get my first guitar, and the two bands dominating my SanDisk MP3 player were Green Day and Fall Out Boy.
Based on those two bands alone, you can assume that my music listening was still largely radio-based. It was before my friends and I would regularly swap CD’s and the idea of being able to share playlists with each other over the internet was too far in the future to even be a thought. It really was a surprise to stumble upon a band I had never heard about, making music I fell head-over-heels for.
This first impression was originally posted as a live blog for supporters in our forums on October 20th, 2017. First impressions are meant to be quick, fun, initial impressions on an album or release as I listen to it for the first time. It’s a running commentary written while listening to an album — not a review. More like a diary of thoughts. This post has been lightly edited for structure and flow.
It’s been too long since I’ve done one of these.
It’s been a while since there’s been a really hyped album coming out that felt right for something like this. But, this Julien Baker album seems just about perfect as we move into fall. Her last album, Sprained Ankle, is one of my favorite fall albums and it’s only a matter of time until this one cements itself in my cold weather rotation as well. In many ways it takes what the first album did and expands upon it in every way. It reminds me a little bit of how Manchester Orchestra took ILAVLAC and enhanced a variety of different aspects of that sound, and their songwriting, to take it up another level for METN. That’s the feeling I get from this album. It takes Julien’s songwriting to a new level, maintains the “it” factor that solidifies her as one of the most exciting and talented voices in music right now, and puts her in rarified air. It’s the kind of album I could see us talking about for years.
In a year that’s been filled with so many new albums, it’s hard to pick out the ones that I think will live a life longer than just this year. The ones that we will return to, talk about, and obsess over for years to come. What are the next classics? The next great albums? The ones all of us remember as the year it came out? I’ve heard a few this year that I think are in contention, albums that have knocked me on my ass, brought a huge smile to my face, and left me speechless … and then “Claws in Your Back” finished and I looked down at the hair standing straight up on my arm. Jesus. That’s new.
“I remember smelling smoke/I woke up, I was choking/Lorrie grabbed the baby and we made it safe outside.” So begins Turnpike Troubadours’ A Long Way from Your Heart, with a family fleeing a burning house. It’s a stark place to start. The characters in this song lose everything but their lives, a photograph, and a shotgun. But the song that takes those things away, called “The Housefire,” is rollicking and lively instead of being dark and downtrodden. There’s even a ripping guitar solo in the song’s extended outro, while the ever-present fiddle—a crucial element of Turnpike Troubadours down-home country sound—flits through the arrangement almost triumphantly.
“Lord knows that I’ve been blessed/I can stand up to the test/I can live on so much less/This much I’ve been learning,” Evan Felker sings in the chorus, because “The Housefire” isn’t about a burning house; it’s about bidding farewell to material encumbrances and realizing what really matters following a crushing tragedy. It’s about finding hope in a dark turn of fate. In a word, it’s about resilience.
On the whole, those same descriptors apply to A Long Way from Your Heart as a whole. These songs are tinged with tragedy, but they are also populated by characters who carry on regardless. The title of the album comes from the bridge of “The Housefire,” where the narrator starts lamenting the “heavy blow” his family has just been dealt. “I’ll bet you make it, it’s a long way from your heart,” his wife responds wryly. You’ll survive, in other words. ‘Tis but a scratch!
There’s very little solace to be found in Mineral Girls’ This Is the Last Time Every Time. The world the characters inhabit is an indifferent – if not outright cruel – one to be certain, but most of the anguish on display here comes from inside. “I’m not trying to get any better / I’m just trying to make it look like I am,” becomes something of a mantra for the record.
This Is the Last Time Every Time is an appropriate title for an album as concerned as this one is with trying to change. The title of the opener (from which comes the above lyric) is “Let’s Talk About Us,” after all. And the song is just as cathartic as it sounds. See, for all the intensity behind the lyrics, the band behind them matches it pound for pound. For the most part, they’ve ditched the fuzz from Cozy Body in favor of a rougher, more straightforward emo sound. “The Bruise on We” begins with a Mineral-style riff, building and building to a post-hardcore climax, complete with harsh shrieks. It’s the only moment like it on the album, but it feels totally necessary. Elsewhere, like the title track, the band introduces electronics into their sound.
When Travis Meadows sings about hitting rock bottom, you can tell he’s been there. There’s a rawness and pain in his voice that tells you he’s not just playing a character or weaving a narrative. His songs ache with the scars of a hard life. As a child, Meadows’ younger brother drowned, his parents got divorced, and he ended up the odd man out between a mother and a father who started new families and moved on without him. At 14, he was diagnosed with cancer. He survived the disease, but lost his right leg in the battle. Eventually, he turned to alcohol as a crutch. He was already writing songs, and already had a publishing deal in Nashville, but he was such a mess that no one would agree to write with him. It took four trips to rehab before he could make sobriety stick.
Meadows has been off the bottle since 2010. In the interim, songs he’s written have been cut by Eric Church, Dierks Bentley, and Jake Owen—three of the biggest male stars in country music right now. His songs, though, remain haunted by his past. In a recent profile for Uproxx.com, Meadows said that he uses songwriting to admit the secrets about himself that he’s too scared to say out loud. That honesty radiates through First Cigarette, Meadows’ second full-length album and the most starkly intimate LP that anyone has made this year.
I’m not sure I have ever anticipated a new album with quite the furor that I anticipated Jimmy Eat World’s Chase This Light in the fall of 2007. Futures had been a game-changer for me, the album that transformed me from a budding music listener into a voracious, lifelong die-hard. As often happens when you’re young, the three years that stretched between the October 19, 2004 release of Futures and the October 16, 2007 release of Chase This Light seemed to last an eternity. (I was 13 when the former came out and 16 for the arrival of the latter.) The wait was eased a bit by the 2005 release of the Stay on My Side Tonight EP, but the dark, moody nature of those songs only made me want a full-length. An album packed of songs like “Disintegration” and “Closer”? Count me in.
Chase This Light was decidedly not that record. Futures gave the band two basic paths forward. The first was to embrace the moody, late night autumnal vibe that manifested on songs like “Polaris” and “23.” That path evidently led to Stay on My Side Tonight, which was made up of songs the band had written for Futures but hadn’t finished or put on the record. The second possible path was for Jimmy Eat World to keep following their arc as a glossy studio band. They’d made Futures with Gil Norton, a well-respected rock producer known for making big, robust rock albums. Futures sounded appropriately huge, and there was some feeling—particularly in radio singles like “Pain” and “Work”—that Jimmy Eat World could be a massive radio rock band for the new millennium if they wanted to be. They could prove that “The Middle” wasn’t just a fluke hit.