Lord Huron, the indie rock group from Los Angeles, have had quite a few years to grow into their trademark sound of atmospheric landscapes and wandering journeys. Vide Noir, the third studio album and their first on a major label, was produced by Dave Fridmann (Tame Impala, The Flaming Lips) and with Fridmann’s help, front-man Ben Schneider has crafted his early career masterpiece. Schneider recently credited this album to a new habit of taking nighttime drives around LA and the “search for meaning amidst the cold indifference of the universe,” according to his recent social media posts.
Straight from the album opener, “Lost in Time and Space,” we are immediately transported to a dark yet clear night landscape with subtle sounds of buzzing lights, background whispers, a harp, and eventually the folk strumming of Schneider’s acoustic guitar cuts through the soft noise. In the track, Schneider admits, “I don’t know who I am, I don’t know where I am,” and the listener is immediately pulled in to go on this journey with the band.
Change can be difficult, sometimes it feels like it is the most painful concept to deal with. That being said, the Central Pennsylvania rap-rock group, From Ashes to New, have dealt with the replacement of their clean vocalist Chris Masser, in favor of Danny Case, semi-seamlessly. In addition to Masser’s departure, the band has a new drummer in Matt Madiro. The band is able to retain the sound that they introduced through two EPs (Downfall and S/T) and a full length LP, Day One, with an effort that should be worthy of an occasional spin.
There’s a song on the new Donovan Woods album Both Ways called “Next Year,” about the very-human tendency to put things off. “We’ll do it next year,” Woods sings—five words we’ve probably all spoken a time or two before. Those words could refer to a lot of different things, depending on your situation. They could be about a trip you’re going to take, or a renovation you’re going to do on your house, or something fun you’re going to do with your kids. Too often, though, next year never becomes this year. It’s just always next year, always tomorrow. And eventually, all those things you were going to do pile up and you realize that you’re running out of time to actually do them. That’s what happens at the end of the song, where Woods sings about an ailing father and his wish to see the Grand Canyon. Instead of making plans for later, the dad and his son just get in the car and drive. Because, as Woods states, “There ain’t no next year.” The sand in the hourglass is almost gone. It’s now or never.
When looking back at the accomplishments for Indie Rock mainstays, The Decemberists, one may think that they have little left to prove on their eighth album. However, this group has never been afraid to make the music they want to make, and bring their loyal fans along for every thrilling and unique chorus. I’ll Be Your Girl finds The Decemberists not only comfortable with who they are, but also as an artist willing to paint with new and vibrant colors.
The flowery cover art and liner notes fit the content of the music well as the album shines brightly and helps paint the story on a canvas that fans of the band have grown accustomed to. The first single and album opener, “Once in My Life” starts the listeners’ experience on the LP on a high note with the familiar strumming of an acoustic guitar and the warm, anthemic vocals of singer Colin Meloy who puts everyone on notice that all is not well in the world. Given the current state of the political climate and the honesty portrayed in The Decemberists’ catalog, it’s easy to tune in for the ride the band takes us on for this album.
Debut albums are typically a fun listen since the old adage goes, “You have your entire life to write your first album,” and The Aces’ When My Heart Felt Volcanic is no exception. The all-female group from Provo, Utah is composed of singer/guitarist Cristal Ramirez, her sister/drummer Alisa Ramirez, bassist McKenna Petty, and guitarist Katie Henderson. The Aces core strength relies on vibrant pop hooks and phenomenal guitar work. Their debut single “Stuck” has already been streamed well over 2 million times, and the band continues to build off their momentum with recent tours with the likes of COIN and X Ambassadors.
When My Heart Felt Volcanic is a shimmering debut, perfect for the beginning of Spring, and all of the good vibes that come along with better weather. Their sound on this album can be best described as a mixture between The 1975-esque guitars, and the well thought out hooks similar to HAIM and Paramore. The album starts off with “Volcanic Love” and helps set the tone for the majority of the song structures and concepts found throughout the LP. The aforementioned single, “Stuck” has a bouncy beat throughout and a memorable sing-a-long chorus. Singer, Cristal Ramirez, shines throughout their debut single and showcases an impressive vocal range and style.
Typically when a band, such as The Neighbourhood, choose to self-title an album, it signals either a re-branding or further solidifies how the band wants to be perceived from this point forward. This album (which is their third full-length LP) falls into the latter category as it thoroughly solidifies the type of music that The Neighbourhood have grown into. The album as a whole focuses on the band’s strengths: gloomy themes, synth-laden riffs, and outstanding vocals from front-man Jesse Rutherford.
The promotional approach for this album was different than what they had tried in the past, as they released two EPs (Hard & To Imagine) leading up to the release of the full-length. This creative approach of teasing the new styles and themes they were experimenting with gave their fans a glimpse into the creative process that went into this album. The lazy approach of releasing two EPs and having the same exact songs and sequencing on the album is not in this band’s DNA, as they have chosen the very best of the EPs content and created an album worth multiple repeat listens.
Hard as it may be to believe, Void Ripper is in fact Animal Flag’s fifth full-length album, and a more-than-worthy followup to 2016’s LP. While the project has always been the brainchild of Matt Politoski, this is the first album featuring the current lineup of Zach Weeks, Sai Boddupalli and Alex Pickert. This time around, the group have crafted an explosive and comprehensive group of songs that Politoski described to Modern Vinyl as a three part process of “order, disorder, and re-order.”
As you might imagine, “disorder” implies a certain chaotic and loud element when applied to a band’s music. In the case of Animal Flag, that’s nothing new. Anyone that has seen this band live can attest to their absolute mastery of dynamics, and while that mastery is hard to capture on record: Void Ripper comes damn close. The production, courtesy of bassist Zach Weeks, is about as raw as it gets, with pounding drums often threatening to drown out other instrumentation.
If you were to describe the course of The Wonder Years’ decade-plus career, you may find the word “growth” as the most fitting. The band’s breakthrough trilogy of albums (2010’s The Upsides, 2011’s Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing, and 2013’s The Greatest Generation) were all about growing up. Each release addressed various stages of getting older all while the band continually got better as musicians and songwriters. Which is why 2015’s No Closer To Heaven felt like such an aberration. Instead of taking the leaps that the prior three albums did, No Closer To Heaven sounded like a lateral move, an album unsure of which version of the band it wanted to be. It resulted in some half-baked, rushed ideas and were the pressure of “what’s next” might have gotten to vocalist Dan Campbell and his bandmates. That’s not to say that Heaven doesn’t feature some of the band’s best work ever (“Cigarettes and Saints”, “The Bluest Things on Earth”, and “Stained Glass Ceilings” are peak Wonder Years), but it was frustrating that the band didn’t fully dive in. Yet it’s that past frustration that makes the band’s incredible new album, Sister Cities, feel so rewarding and refreshing.
There’s no holding back on Yarn for McCafferty. The band tackles tough subjects and kicks off the album with “Loser.” The first line is “I saw the loser trip and fall” and it sets the tone for the entire album. McCafferty lets it all out on this record. Last year, they returned from their hiatus with Thanks. Sorry. Sure. and while they had a lot to say then, this album feels even more honest and personal than the EP.
Kacey Musgraves released one of the two or three most important country albums of the decade back in 2013. The LP—her breakthrough, Same Trailer, Different Park—tossed a whole slew of country conventions in the garbage disposal with an “I don’t give a fuck” smile. Musgraves sounded sarcastic, but not disrespectful. Jaded, but not overly cynical. Instead of praising hometowns like most of her contemporaries, she painted them as havens for close-minded, philandering burnouts. Instead of steering well-clear of anything resembling a progressive political message, she sang about kissing lots of boys…or kissing lots of girls, if that’s what you’re into. Compared to the bro country wave that was on a cruise at the time, Musgraves was a breath of fresh air.
In the years since, a lot more artists like Kacey have come out of the woodwork—to the point where there’s no longer even a point in painting an “us vs. them” battle between the country mainstream and the “insurgency.” These days, most of the biggest “insurgent” heroes are shifting a boatload of records, scoring Grammy nominations, and selling out major headlining tours. It shouldn’t be understated how instrumental Musgraves was in creating an environment where that kind of harmonious balance could happen.
When Out of Service burst onto the scene last year with What We Bring With Us, it was the sound of a band indebted to the sounds of the early 2000s. Bands like Jimmy Eat World, Cartel, and Taking Back Sunday had left fingerprints all across the EP, making for a pleasant if not entirely unique introduction to the New Jersey band. Still, the energy and talent on display were undeniable, and thankfully, on Morning, Out of Service have come into their own.
Chris Porterfield is one of the most honest songwriters alive.
It might not seem that way from a cursory listen to the music of Field Report, the band Porterfield has fronted now for three albums. As a writer, he couches much of his observations about relationships and human struggles in layers of metaphor. But start to peel back the meaning of the songs and you’ll arrive at deeply moving messages about the heart and what keeps it beating. That was the case with 2014’s Marigolden, a starkly intimate record where Porterfield came clean about his struggles with alcoholism. That album often felt like a dreamscape, like coming down from the haze of a buzz for the first time in weeks, only to find that the clarity of an undrunk mind felt as surreal as being on an alien planet. “The fog’s been lifting, and I’m doin’ alright,” Porterfield sang on a sublimely beautiful song called “Summons,” “But I still can’t look nobody in the eye.”
There’s a search for permanence on Hurry’s new album, Every Little Thought – each of album’s ten tracks a vital piece in the journey. And it’s really the album’s opening song (and title track) that encapsulates this desire perfectly. At five minutes long, it’s the album’s best song as Matt Scottoline (formerly of Philly emo band Everyone Everywhere) achingly sings, “Every little thought I have about you / And what the future brings / Every little thing I knew about you / Doesn’t mean anything,” over slight reverb drenched in melancholy. It’s Hurry at their very best, as the band is in no rush when it comes to creating luscious melodies and captivating hooks, letting each one breathe and build on its own until Hurry’s bittersweet pop is ringing within your ears for days.
The title of Black Foxxes’ sophomore album, translated from Icelandic, means “rage.” Presumably, it comes from a lyric on the album’s closer “Float On”:
Now I understand rage, a feeling that is never subdued.
While Mark Holley’s assessment of the feeling is accurate, it doesn’t sum up the record quite so well. In fact, the biggest difference between Reiði and the band’s debut I’m Not Well is how much more subdued this record is.
It’s not until the final track that Turnstile reveals a mission statement of sorts on their second album, (and major label debut) Time & Space – a digitized voice explains, “We will dilute the distinction between time and space” – but if you were paying attention in the 25 minutes prior you already knew that the band set out to blur the lines on what hardcore music can be. The record’s third track, “Generator,” essentially dares you to stick with it by unleashing a bridge drenched in an acidic haze before transitioning into the jazzy waltz of “Bomb,” a 25-second featuring vocals from Tanikka Charraé. So less than 6 minutes in, you’re either in or you’re out (even indirectly calling it out on the former track – lyrics like “Don’t waste my time,” and “Gotta go my own way” serve as the song’s rallying cry of sorts) as the Baltimore quintet only delves further into the weirdness.
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.