Review

Review: Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness – Upside Down Flowers

When Andrew McMahon announced his new LP, Upside Down Flowers, he referred to the album’s producer, Butch Walker, as a “fellow traveler.” That word choice was fitting, because if one word could describe McMahon over the 20 years that have so far encompassed his career, “traveler” is it. McMahon has made a lot of types of records over the years. He’s made emo-flecked piano rock records and sunny pop-punk records. He’s made Americana-influenced road trip records and towering stadium pop records. He’s made records about California and records about New York. He made one of the ultimate records about living young and free, followed by a record about almost dying young. He’s traversed a lot of territory over the course of eight LPs and three very distinct chapters. But he’s never made a record quite like Upside Down Flowers before, a record that is, ostensibly, about a traveler looking back and taking stock of where he’s been so far.

Upside Down Flowers is the most outwardly nostalgic album that McMahon has ever made. He’s written about the past before, but never in such detail or with such a storyteller’s eye. The first song on the album is called “Teenage Rockstars,” and it’s an unabashed tribute to McMahon’s bandmates from the Something Corporate days. The second song is called “Ohio,” and it vividly recounts the drive that transplanted his family from Ohio to the west coast—right down to the band that was playing on the car stereo. Listening to these songs feels like sitting next to McMahon on a couch, flipping through a photo album of old polaroids and hearing him recount the adventures and misadventures depicted in each. It’s a kind of intimacy we haven’t heard from him before.

Review: Coheed and Cambria – The Unheavenly Creatures

Coheed

When looking for adjectives to describe Coheed and Cambria and their latest effort, The Unheavenly Creatures, I kept going back to the same word: epic. Coheed have never been strangers to expanding their repertoire of complex space odysseys and intermingled stories of fictional characters, but on this LP they have genuinely created something quite remarkable.

This album grabs your interest directly from the first notes of “Prologue” that sets that stage for all that will come next in this saga. From the shiny and brilliant packaging of the entire album and its artwork, it’s hard not to get directly sucked into the vortex of Coheed’s world on this fantastic record.

Review: Butch Walker – Sycamore Meadows

Few albums can put a smile on my face as quickly as Sycamore Meadows.

That’s probably an odd thing to say, since Sycamore Meadows is not, by most metrics, a happy album. Butch Walker’s fourth solo LP was birthed in part from the California wildfires that destroyed his home, most of his possessions, and the master tapes for every song he’d ever recorded up to that point. The songs catalog breakups, painful journeys of self-discovery, and the record business being irreversibly fucked. The album’s last track is a sobering piano ballad that bears one of the most emotional vocal performances Butch ever put on tape.

And yet, Sycamore Meadows still makes me smile.

Review: John Nolan – Abendigo

John Nolan

On the latest solo effort from John Nolan, Abendigo, he continues to stretch the boundaries and imaginations of what a record can be, with very favorable results. Giving the production reins to the trusted tutelage of Mike Sapone (Taking Back Sunday, Mayday Parade), Nolan delivers a terrific LP sure to tide his fans over until the next TBS record hits the streets.

Review: Stove – Stove’s Favorite Friend

Stove

On the sophomore effort from Stove, entitled Stove’s Favorite Friend, they are on the cusp of greatness. For several reasons that I will go into for this review, this band has showcased a true potential for their unique brand of 90’s-esque rock and roll that is pleasant on the ears. Beating to their own drum by quietly releasing this LP mid-week, on Halloween, only adds to the mystery surrounding this four-piece band from Newton, Connecticut.

Review: Rock Critic Law

Rock Critic

Michael Azerrad is no stranger to writing about music. He’s the author of Our Band Could Be Your Life, and he recently released Rock Critic Law. The latter is a book that includes 101 unbreakable rules for writing badly about music, as the subtitle notes. The book is an extremely quick read as the rules are presented in tweet-length format.

Review: Antarctigo Vespucci – Love in the Time of E-Mail

Antarctigo Vespucci - Love in the Time of E-Mail

I hate voicemail. I hate leaving it. I hate receiving it. I always expect the worst and/or I think I sound like a total goober on the other end. Basically, it’s the one technology that gives me the most anxiety. So it’s fitting that the latest from Antarctigo Vespucci, Love in the Time of E-Mail, would begin with a song called “Voicemail,” kicking off a record that encompasses all the anxiety-ridden excitement and nervousness that comes with exploring personal relationships in a digital world.

It’s the second full-length release from the dynamic duo of Chris Farren and Jeff Rosenstock (the first on Polyvinyl Records). As the frontmen of two beloved underground punk bands – Fake Problems and Bomb The Music Industry! respectively – the two musicians’ profiles have risen considerably over the past few years due to incredible solo albums and headline-stealing performances. So despite having a little more buzz surrounding this release than their 2015 debut Leavin’ La Vida Loca, Antarctigo Vespucci decided to keep doing what they do best – dissecting the pop songs that defined its genre and integrating those moments into 3-minute bursts of intoxicating rock songs. The album offers a terrific mix of Rosenstock’s fuzzy punk energy and Farren’s honey-sweet melodies, resulting in the band’s best release in their 100-year career.

Review: My Chemical Romance – The Black Parade

The Black Parade

Let me preface this My Chemical Romance retrospective by stating that they are my favorite band, and I still hold The Black Parade as one of my top-5 favorite albums ever recorded. Throughout My Chemical Romance’s career, I was astounded by their rise to fame, and having seen them go as the first opening band on tour with The Used, to headlining stadiums by the time The Black Parade reached its heights, and I have marveled at the lore and theatrics surrounding my favorite artist.

Review: Eliza Shaddad – Future

Eliza Shaddad – Future

Eliza Shaddad is a UK-based alternative singer who has grown from attracting listeners with the passionate vocals on her first EP, “Waters” to making it easy to hit the replay button on her sophomore EP, “Run.” With her dreamy vocals, one can get lost in her world of free expression—this isn’t all she has to offer. She spent most of her childhood moving across different continents and has tales of many adventures. She channels the memories of those adventures through her lyrics. Every project she has released so far has felt like a musical storybook. Future is Shaddad’s debut album—one which has been highly anticipated by many—especially those who experienced the thrill that came with her previous projects.

Review: Greta Van Fleet – Anthem of the Peaceful Army

On the debut full-length album from Greta Van Fleet, Anthem of the Peaceful Army, they ask the question: What do you call classic rock when it is re-packaged with a modern rock sound? For starters, we can answer that with an emphatic response of calling it: “pretty damn fun.”

Greta Van Fleet has drawn immediate comparisons to rock and roll hall-of-famers Led Zeppelin, for obvious reasons, but they have listed several other core sound influences (such as hard rock, jazz, and blues) when interviewed by other media outlets. The band is comprised of three brothers: lead vocalist Josh Kiszka, guitarist Jake Kiszka, and bassist Sam Kiszka. Rounding out the foursome is the drummer, Danny Wagner. Coming off of a successful and highly-hyped EP, From the Fires, anticipation was at an all-time high to see what these kids from Frankenmuth, Michigan had cooked up for their debut album.

Review: The Sonder Bombs – Modern Female Rockstar

MODERN FEMALE ROCKSTAR

I’ve been waiting for a band like The Sonder Bombs to come along. The four-piece from Cleveland, Ohio has assembled an immersive collection of tracks to make up their debut album, Modern Female Rockstar. The band promises to change up the scene with their brand of unrelenting, socially conscious pop-punk – with the ukulele as a main star! Pop punk hasn’t been this fun, or sounded this important, in god knows how long. Modern Female Rockstar is urgent, shimmers, and explodes. With “Title” and “Twinkle Lights,” The Sonder Bombs join peers in UK riot grrrl group Peach Club and punk rock band Dream Wife, as well as Australian rockers Camp Cope and Courtney Barnett in penning tracks that carry hefty messages – these phenomenal artists relentlessly and publicly condemn sexual assault. But, The Sonder Bombs don’t forget to have some fun along the way, allowing their songs to revel in quickly found assurance.

Review: Tokyo Police Club – TPC

TPC

On TPC, the self-titled and fourth full-length LP from Tokyo Police Club, they crank up the guitars and hone in on their songwriting. Coming off of two quick EPs, entitled Melon Collie and the Infinite Radness (Part I and II), after the success of my favorite effort to date by the band, Forcefield, Tokyo Police Club wanted to reinvent themselves once again. What we are left with is a solid mix of guitar-driven rock by a band still trying to figure out who they are.

Starting off the 12-song set is the track called “New Blues,” that reminded me a bit of the garage-rock style of The Strokes with Dave Monks trademark earnest vocal delivery. When Monks sings, “Battle cry, I can barely sleep/It happens every single time/It’s in my heart/It’s in my soul/For once I don’t want it to be denied,” you can feel every heartbeat and drop of emotion that went into the song. It also doesn’t hurt to have a very talented guitarist backing Monks’ words in Josh Hook, who certainly lives up to his last name by crafting several key hooks in many of the memorable songs found on this album.

Review: Belly – IMMIGRANT

Belly - Immigrant

Belly is a Canadian rapper with Palestinian-Jordanian ancestry. Hoping to escape violence and poverty, his family immigrated to Ottawa, Canada when he was a boy. It was during this phase of his life that he learned how to sell drugs, and live with the challenges of being a Muslim in a primarily non-Muslim country. On IMMIGRANT, Belly tells this story with the help of some top-rated producers, such as TRAKGIRL, Ben Billions, Metroboomin, and Southside who deliver the catchy beats as he captivates listeners with his thought-provoking lyrics.

Review: A Star is Born Soundtrack

A Star is Born Soundtrack

On the music for A Star is Born, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s on-camera chemistry translates brilliantly onto the charismatic and charming soundtrack. The album opens up with an intro of a band tuning up and quickly blends into “Black Eyes,” that features Bradley Cooper on lead vocals in a bluesy rock track that shows off his impressive vocal delivery. The track itself was co-written by Cooper and Lukas Nelson and is an excellent way to start the soundtrack.

One major disclaimer about this album is that it is interspersed with movie dialogue throughout, which was a bit of a turn off for me. Some may like remembering these key scenes of dialogue from the film, but on an album that has 34 tracks, I found it a bit distracting from the songs themselves.

Review: mewithoutYou – [Untitled]

mewithoutYou - [Untitled]

After the release and touring of 2015’s revelationary Pale Horses, mewithoutYou needed to find some space before the apocalypse turned inwards. Vocalist Aaron Weiss relocated to Idaho with his family, a makeshift home studio rig and MIDI keyboard while the rest of his bandmates (including his brother Mike) remained in Philadelphia workshopping new ideas with producer Will Yip. There’s that one saying, you know, that distance makes the heart grow fonder? Well for the genre-defying quintet, distance also made the creativity flow more freely than every before, while some inner-band tensions and relationship strife served as the impetus to untapped creativity and fueled the [Untitled] recording sessions with Yip, yielding 19 new songs (spanning one EP and one LP, both sharing the same name) that showcase the duality within mewithoutYou’s dazzling soundscape.

Review: Twenty One Pilots – Trench

Trench

Twenty One Pilots are out for world domination, as is made entirely evident on Trench, the fifth full-length LP from the dynamic duo from Columbus, Ohio. From the first gripping notes on “Jumpsuit,” it’s clear that Twenty One Pilots are calling the masses to join them in their quest for being the biggest band in the world. The fact that this album is outstanding shouldn’t stand in the way of Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun from accomplishing their goal.

Having previously heard the outstanding production of the singles such as “Levitate,” “Nico and the Niners,” and the aforementioned “Jumpsuit,” I had the inclination that Twenty One Pilots would continue to raise the bar on the already-lofty expectations for the artist. Holy hell, they pulled it off.

The first thing that stood out to me while listening to this comprehensive 14-track set is how damn good the production is throughout. Trench was produced by Tyler Joseph and Paul Meany (Mutemath), and they both hit a home run on this one. I was blown away by their other collaborative work, the EP TOP x MM, that was released for free back in December 2016, that featured several “reimagined” versions of songs from Blurryface as well as the brilliant single, “Heathens.” This continued collaboration is paying significant dividends for Twenty One Pilots as they continue to strive for a more organic sounding type of album that shines brightly.

Review: Death Cab For Cutie – Transatlanticism

Death Cab for Cutie

Transatlanticism is my favorite album of all time. Death Cab For Cutie’s fourth album, released fifteen years ago today, is the band’s second concept album. Transatlanticism centers itself around long-distance love, with both its strengths and downfalls. Ben Gibbard, the band’s soft-sung lead vocalist, lyricist, and guitarist, penned the term “transatlanticism” to express the unfathomable emotional space between two young lovers. The distance Gibbard discusses feels impenetrable. Transatlanticism sees Death Cab For Cutie experimenting with soft-loud dynamics (“Transatlanticism”, “We Looked Like Giants”), perfecting the gorgeous quiet track (“Lightness”, “A Lack of Color”), and witnesses them pushing themselves to go all-out and produce the flawless pop song (“The Sound Of Settling”). Completing all of this is the efforts of guitarist, co-writer and producer Chris Walla. Walla’s lo-fi production is perfect for Transatlanticism. Fifteen years later, and Transatlanticism still sounds incredibly rich and indulgent, yet also warm and intimate.

Review: Hippo Campus – Bambi

Hippo Campus

On Hippo Campus latest offering, Bambi, they continue to stretch out their unique brand of indie rock and get their audience to come along for every note of the thrilling LP. Hippo Campus have plenty of credibility and accolades to their name in just a short amount of time, and they could have gone any number of directions with their second full-length album. What we are left with is hard to classify, yet incredibly strong, work of art from the five-piece group from St. Paul, Minnesota.

The album opener, “Mistakes,” begins with a softly sung, and almost faint, vocal delivery while the midway point begins to bring on the other samples and noise elements that are prominent on this record. “Anxious” follows this introductory track with the quirky brand of Indie/Emo rock that we have grown accustomed to from the band over the years, while still bringing in fresh elements to the Hippo Campus sound. The first real hook that got me sucked into this record is when singer Jake Luppen shouts, “Tried screaming but I won’t believe it/I’ll tell them what they want to hear then/Just give me a week or two to find it/Then maybe we’ll get back to the place we started.” This is precisely what anxiety feels like making you do: screaming from the inside, all the while doubting yourself that it was the right path to take.

Review: The Living End – Wunderbar

The Living End - Wunderbar

The Living End return with what is probably their best album in over ten years. It ticks every box it needs to, and then some. This is their first release under the Rise Records banner, and their first time working with producer Tobias Kuhn. Tobias is better known for producing multiple titles for folk/electronic band Milky Chance, so, it’s bit of a gamble to go with a producer who more often than not is embedded in the electronic music landscape. But it paid off handsomely for the men from Melbourne, Australia.