Review

Review: McCafferty – Thanks. Sorry. Sure.

Mccafferty - Thanks. Sorry. Sure.

McCafferty are just the latest band to come out of the machine that is Take This To Heart Records. Their new EP, Thanks. Sorry. Sure., gives you a taste of what the band has to offer. They have a versatility that shows with each song. The band started a GoFundMe campaign in order to work on this EP before the label picked them up and the result is great. The quartet is the latest band out of the Ohio music scene, which seems to be producing some great bands lately.

“Trailer Trash” immediately grabs your attention with some shouting before the song truly comes in. From there, they hook you with lyrics like “I’m the worst of the worst,” that give a raw perspective on their thoughts and emotions. “Cut Out The Pieces” and “Daddy Long Legs” both get some acoustic guitar to start the songs. The band does a nice job of blending the acoustic aspect in with the full band sound.

Review: Pet Symmetry – Vision

The best albums are the ones that challenge you the most and, for the past month, Pet Symmetry’s Vision has truly been a challenge for me.

It’s not that I didn’t like it, or that it needed to grow on me. It’s that there’s quite a bit to unpack, despite the fact that the album is only 11 songs and 30 minutes long. I’ve started and re-started this review more times than I care to admit, because each listen through left me with more to say than I knew what to do with.

Though it’s a quick listen, Vision never once feels short or stunted, or like there might be something missing. On the contrary, Pet Symmetry’s songs feel complete in what is often an unusually brief amount of time.

Review: Captain, We’re Sinking – The King of No Man

Captain, We're Sinking

Captain, We’re Sinking’s The Future Is Cancelled was one of the most impressive punk albums in recent memory. It’s a tense listening experience, as songs burst and crash with little warning; vocalists Bobby Barnett and Leo Vergnetti jumped between near-inaudible whispers and throat-damaging howls at the drop of a dime, singing harrowing stories of depression, alcoholism, and suicide. It all felt spontaneous, necessary.

The King of No Man feels a bit more rehearsed. Where before the band had more jagged edges, they’ve smoothed them over. Instead of finding catharsis through ragged shouting as on The Future, No Man finds it in quieter moments, to varying effects. Opener “Trying Year” ushers this new era of Captain, We’re Sinking in appropriately, pumping the brakes every time one would think Barnett’s getting ready to let loose (although he or Vergnetti does sneak a pretty impressive guitar solo in there). “Hunting Trip” is a slowburn comparable to “A Bitter Divorce” with a less intense payoff, finding Barnett singing the song’s climactic final lines over a clean guitar line. It feels a bit toothless in the end, like there should’ve been a little more push to end out the song, and it sort of sputters out rather than exploding. Then there’s “Dance of Joy,” a bizarre, drum-led song that would never fit on The Future Is Cancelled. It’s weird to even think the same band wrote this song and “Shoddy Workmanship,” but it ends up being one of the album’s highlights, due in good part to Vergnetti’s powerful vocal performance.

Review: Tigers Jaw – Spin

Tigers Jaw - spin

When you consider the last three or four years of Tigers Jaw’s career, spin feels a like an apt title for the band’s fifth album. After the original quintet recorded and released 2014’s stellar Charmer, the band is officially the duo of Ben Walsh and Brianna Collins. And with that foundation firmly in the ground, Tigers Jaw have released their strongest album to date in spin. Working with producer Will Yip once again – and backed by his new Atlantic Records imprint Black Cement – spin is a twelve track adventure consisting of a terrific blend of indie-pop tracks, as Collins joined Walsh with the songwriting duties. The result is stronger hooks, sweeter melodies, and an album that ascends Tigers Jaw to the very top amongst their peers.

Review: Cigarettes After Sex – Cigarettes After Sex

Cigarettes After Sex

I was starting to get nervous about Cigarettes After Sex. Their debut EP, I., had picked up some steam when it was released – in 2012. Sure, they’d released a couple singles here and there, but without any word of an album, or even an EP, I got a little bit disheartened. Cut to present day and Cigarettes After Sex are releasing their self-titled debut and it’s everything I could have wanted out of a follow-up to I. The album picks up up exactly where the EP left off, offering up ten tracks of melancholic, languid indie rock.

Review: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound

“Last year was a son of a bitch for nearly everyone we know.” So Jason Isbell proclaims in the middle of “Hope the High Road,” the resilient lead single from his brand new LP, The Nashville Sound. It’s something of a mission statement for the record, which is very much informed by 2016’s shit storm of political division and deep-seated anger. However, that lyric only gains its resonance from the line that follows it: “But I ain’t fighting with you down in the ditch, I’ll meet you up here on the road.” Being pissed off and dwelling on everything that went wrong last year might feel good, but it isn’t productive. Looking forward and striving to do better and be better is what’s necessary to effect change.

As a lead single, “Hope the High Road” is not indicative of what this album sounds like. It’s bright and anthemic where much of the record is dark and jagged, opting for Springsteen-style uplift instead of following the record’s lead of addressing all those nagging thoughts that you don’t want to talk about at parties. However, the message of the song—that maybe it’s a good idea to take a look inward instead of casting blame for once—is what gives the LP its beating heart. The Nashville Sound is the third masterpiece in a row from Isbell, and it gets there by never giving easy answers to the hard questions.

Review: The Steel Woods – Straw in the Wind

Southern rock often goes overlooked in mainstream or music criticism circles, which is why bands like The Steel Woods will probably never have the widespread followings they deserve. Bands of this ilk either get lumped in with country (and subsequently written off by people who don’t like country) or compared endlessly to Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers Band, as if no southern rock bands have existed since. But the past few years have been nothing but healthy for southern rock, bringing great albums from new artists (A Thousand Horses, Whiskey Myers, Cadillac Three, Blackberry Smoke) and old standbys alike (the ever-reliable Drive By Truckers). Even Chris Stapleton has more than a little bit of the southern rock sound in his DNA.

The Steel Woods add their name to that list with their stellar debut album, the recently-released Straw in the Wind. Blending influences from half a dozen genres—including blues, gospel, down-home country, rock ‘n’ roll, and even a little dash of metal—The Steel Woods sound more seasoned, versatile, and assured on this sprawling 13-song collection than you would normally expect from a debut act. (Though they do have a previous four-song EP under their belt.) The band’s wheelhouse is dark, atmospheric rock ‘n’ roll, like the slow-burning opener “Axe” or the gospel-tinged “Let the Rain Come Down,” a song that appeared in a more acoustic-oriented arrangement on last year’s debut album from singer/songwriter Brent Cobb. Foreboding and thrilling, these songs carry an almost apocalyptic glint to them, which makes for a hell of a lot of fun.

First Impression: Manchester Orchestra – A Black Mile to the Surface

Manchester Orchestra - A Black Mile to the Surface

This first impression was originally posted as a live blog for supporters in our forums on June 9th, 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.

Why hello there.

Ever since the album showed up in my inbox, this has been probably the most requested “first listen” blog yet. I was waiting until the embargo ended to talk and write about this one in more detail, and with the announcement and single release today … I figured I might as well just kick this one out right now! The album is out in about a month and a half, so it’s not super early, and this will also allow me to come back to this thread in the next month and add new thoughts as I continue to listen and grow with this album.

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Review: Beach Fossils – Somersault

Earlier in May, I wrote about Mac DeMarco’s new album This Old Dog, concluding that it was “his best and most mature album to date.” This is relevant because, generally speaking, This Old Dog isn’t much different from any other Mac DeMarco album. Sure, the songs are more polished and his production has shifted to put more on the personal singer-songwriter aspect of the album, but these are relatively small revolutions in what has ultimately become the trademark Mac DeMarco sound. Put simply, This Old Dog is just more of what Mac DeMarco does best, done better than before.

This is one way to do things.

Other times, a “good” artist who has historically released “good” albums reaches a critical point in their career: here, they must decide whether to remain stagnant or let loose. And sometimes, a band that chooses the latter ends up releasing their best album yet.

This is the another way to do things, and this is what Beach Fossils have done with their third LP, Somersault.

Review: Bleachers – Gone Now

Bleachers - Gone Now

One of my favorite musical memories was a moment of serendipitous timing outside a record store in Florence, Italy. We found this store almost as an afterthought, popping our heads in at the end of a long day of traveling. But as we left the store, we saw a man busking across the street, singing “Sex On Fire” by Kings Of Leon at the top of his lungs. And I’ll never forget watching this man, singing the lyrics in both English and Italian, crooning “This man is on fire” to a person passing by on a bike. As I watched the assembled crowd start to sing along, again in a mix of languages, I was struck by how a deliberately audacious, silly slice of pop-rock bliss had transcended cultures and boundaries.

All this is to say that when I heard the saxophone on “Everybody Lost Somebody,” made to sound not dissimilar from the street busker I saw in Florence, I knew that Jack Antonoff has had experiences like that. Experiences that made you become not just a spectator in the world around you, but a participant, connected with others. And he realizes that so many of these moments and connections are made through our most universal of languages: music. In many ways, that is what Gone Now, the sophomore record of Jack Antonoff’s project Bleachers, seems to be about: living presently and openly engaging and trying to connect with the people around you.

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First Impression: The Movielife – Cities in Search of a Heart

The Movielife - Cities in Search of a Heart

This first impression was originally posted as a live blog for supporters in our forums on May 29th, 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.

I figure with so many albums I wanna write about, if I don’t start cranking these out, I’ll never get to everything in time. So, another night, another first listen thread! Celebrate!

Tonight I’ll be doing a little live blog for the new album from The Movielife. There was a time, maybe right around my freshman year of college, where I would have called The Movielife my favorite band. It was when pop-punk was getting pretty popular, but these guys played a little more aggressive style and seemed to sit under the radar … (before signing to Drive-Thru) … and I loved their name and music and that carried some cache at 18. The band that was awesome that no one else really knew. That was like catnip to me around that time period. So while everyone else had discovered NFG, I was proudly wearing my Movielife shirts around campus and thinking I was the absolute coolest.

I think those albums hold up pretty well too. Some of it’s a little dated, but I can go back to them and still sing along to those chant-y choruses and fast guitar riffs. Melody and pop-punk-hardcore …. there’s just something about that sound I’ve always loved.

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First Impression: Bleachers – Gone Now

Bleachers - Gone Now

This first impression was originally posted as a live blog for supporters in our forums on May 28th, 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.

I hope everyone is having a nice Memorial weekend, or at the very least is staying cool and relaxing just a little bit. It’s been a pretty nice one here so far — quite hot. I’m currently downing a big glass of water. I got a bit of work done and spent a lot of today being super lazy and reading Batman comics and napping. Can’t complain much about that kinda day.

So, as the sun starts to sort of set over here, I thought this would be the perfect time to do a first listen live blog for the new album from Bleachers. I’ve been looking forward to this from the moment I first heard this album, because it just feels like the kinda album that we’re all going to be talking about for a good part of the year and we’re going to be deconstructing and coming back to for years to come. It’s quite good and it definitely lived up to my lofty expectations. It’s a pop album with heart, smarts, and panache.

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First Impression: All Time Low – Last Young Renegade

All Time Low - Last Young Renegade

This first impression was originally posted as a live blog for supporters in our forums on May 19th, 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.

Oh yes, it is that time again … first listen time.

Tonight I’m excited to share a live-blog-first-listen thread all about the new All Time Low album.

My history with All Time Low is interesting. I remember seeing a lot of hype for the band around The Party Scene era and giving the songs a listen, I thought it was pretty run of the mill stuff, nothing really stood out to me. Then they released PUOSP and I was like, eh, ok, this is better, there’s some stuff here that I like, but as a whole, nothing really grabbing me. That was a three or so year long period of seeing the band, thinking they had potential, but nothing stood out to me as a “hit.”

And then the band sent me some demos for SWIR.

I heard “Dear Maria.”

I remember thinking, “yep, that’s the one.”

As a whole that was the first album I thought really nailed a pop-punk vibe and they had multiple tracks on that album I really, really liked. “Six Feet,” “Remembering Sunday,” “Stay Awake” … I felt like I finally got the band, even if I wasn’t really feeling the albums. That continued with Nothing Personal, an album where I really enjoyed a variety of songs, even more than the previous album, and this was the first time where I felt the band had put together a full album of songs. Something I felt like I would come back to time and time again and be able to listen to front and back.

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Review: Paramore – After Laughter

Paramore - After Laughter

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.

Review: Super American – Disposable

uper American - Disposable

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.

Review: Mac DeMarco – This Old Dog

“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?”

“Uh-huh. Yep.”

“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.

Review: John Moreland – Big Bad Luv

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.

Review: Chris Stapleton – From A Room: Volume 1

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.

Review: New Found Glory – Makes Me Sick

NFG - Makes Me Sick

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.

First Impression: New Found Glory – Makes Me Sick

NFG - Makes Me Sick

This first impression was originally posted as a live blog for supporters in our forums on April 24th, 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.

Wooooo, time for a little first listen blogging time. Been way too long since I’ve done one of these, and I’m really excited to do a live-blog-first-listen tonight for the new New Found Glory album. Before getting started, a few things:

  1. I think this is my favorite NFG album since, at least, Coming Home, and I think I actually will end up having it ranked pretty high in their discography within a few years. It is surprisingly fun, energetic, a fun spin on their well known style, and incredibly enjoyable. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I have, and I’ve been playing it … a lot over the past few weeks.
  2. NFG were at one point a band I called my “favorite” (I think I talked about this on a past podcast episode about favorite bands), I wanted to BE this band. Haha. They had the style, the look, and the sound that I wanted to emulate so badly. I kinda moved away from them over the years, but when I go back and play their albums now (at least the early ones), they are so caked in nostalgia for me I can’t help but love them.
  3. I haven’t really liked their last few albums that much to be honest. They’ve been fine, but they felt so predictable to me that I never found myself coming back to them at all. I’d listen for a week or so, and then if I ever wanted an NFG fix, I’d go back to the ST and S&S instead. I really do think this is the first album from them in a while that will shake up that trend for me.
  4. I love the production on this one. I think the band mixing it up with new ears and a new voice in the studio was exactly what they needed. I think Sprinkle knocked this out of the park.
  5. I’ve talked on past podcasts about bands getting in a rut, and how I wish more would try new things that work within their sound … this album is exactly what I wanted to see from this band … it really is exactly that.
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