Review: AJR – The Maybe Man

There’s something to be said for a band who knows how to make a well-crafted, thought out, and carefully mapped out  album. AJR may have just made their early-career masterpiece on The Maybe Man, a record that is brimming with purpose, an ultra-personal touch, and better structurally organized than any of their previous four LPs. The Maybe Man finds the three brothers (Adam, Jack & Ryan Met) at a crossroads: they’ve just made their most commercially and critically successful record in 2021’s Ok Orchestra, the band recently announced their first arena tour, and yet the material found on this record is dripping with self-doubt. For a band that got famous with songs like “Bang!” “Weak” and the ultra-viral “World’s Smallest Violin,” the opening song/title track finds lead singer, Jack pondering vulnerably, “Wish I was a stone so I couldn’t feel / You’d yell in my face, it’d be no big deal / But I’d miss the way we make up and smile / Don’t wanna be stone, I changed my mind,” while getting into heavier material (lyrically) with “God Is Really Real” that comes to terms with their father, Gary’s, untimely passing. As close as I am to my dad, I can’t imagine going through life without my own mentor, and I commend AJR for tackling this concept head on with grace on The Maybe Man.

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Review: Daniel Donato – Reflector

The sophomore set from alt-country up-and-comer Daniel Donato, called Reflector, is a colorful collection of songs that are brimming with lush textures and shimmering guitars. From the vibrant opening bars of the song “Lose Your Mind” to the closing, near 6-minute opus of “Dance in the Desert Pt. 2,” Donato leaves his musical blueprint all over this record that showcases his unmistakable talent. The Nashville-based singer/songwriter describes his new record as “Cosmic Country” and it fits well within the same realm of artists like The Lumineers, Lord Huron, and the crisp ,country twang of Zac Brown Brand. When speaking on his new LP, Donato shared, “I think ‘Cosmic Country’ is a tale as old as time, really. It’s yin and yang in a musical form. It’s three chords and the truth, and then on the other side it’s exploration and bravery. I really went through a lot of years of grinding, and still am, to achieve this sound which is a vehicle for my personality, and the personality is a vehicle for my soul. So (Reflector) is more that than any other record I ever put out.” Daniel Donato is quickly climbing the ladder of notoriety on Reflector.

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Review: Blink-182 – [Untitled]

It really does feel like yesterday that I was just unwrapping the CD of this Blink-182 classic, known to many as their [Untitled} fifth effort, and grinning ear to ear about the sound that was about to surround me for the next two-plus years of a standard album cycle. Little did I know, this would be the last studio album Blink-182 would record for eight (!) years, until they returned with 2011’s Neighborhoods. This studio effort was a flawless execution of slick pop-punk hooks, experimental rock, hip-hop beats, and a top-notch collaborative song with The Cure’s Robert Smith. While some longtime Blink fans were disappointed with the final result of this record (that succeeded the bulletproof pop-punk classic, Take Off Your Pants & Jacket), almost all of these fans now point to this album as a seismic shift in the band’s songwriting and offered glimpses as to where they would take their sound for the foreseeable future. This fifth LP was produced by Jerry Finn, and it would also end up being their longest album to date, clocking in at a little over the 49-minute mark. Mark Hoppus, Tom DeLonge and Travis Barker should be looking back fondly on this momentous album today that would find Blink-182 breaking down the silos of what a pop-punk band should sound like, and blow the doors off the hinges in the process.

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Review: Social Distortion – Mommy’s Little Monster

Time just keeps marching on, doesn’t it? When Social Distortion released their debut LP, Mommy’s Little Monster, in June (the exact date couldn’t be pinned down) of 1983, it signaled an energetic movement in the SoCal punk scene. The most “traditional” of punk records in Social Distortion’s storied discography, Mommy’s Little Monster, is an adrenaline shot to the hip of slick guitar-driven hooks, paired with vocalist/guitarist Mike Ness’s trademark growl. The LP has been passionately restored to notoriety by Craft Recordings and their 40th anniversary vinyl reissue that hit stores today. The album features quick punk rock songs like “The Creeps (I Just Wanna Give You)” that while they seem raw on the surface, are packed with some breadcrumbs of where Social Distortion would take their sound for the next 40-plus years. The only single to be released, “Another State of Mind,” still finds its way into Social D’s setlist from time to time, and remains a punk scene favorite. Mommy’s Little Monster plays out like a band gaining their footing in the exploding punk scene of the early 80’s and still holds up to this day.

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Review: Broadside – Hotel Bleu

Usually when you check into a new hotel, it has a funny way of changing your outlook and mindset for the days to come. Whether it’s settling down in a hotel for a vacation, work trip, or just a weekend getaway, these places tend to have their own unique personality attached to them. Broadside have this concept well on the top of their mind on their fourth full-length record, called Hotel Bleu. The interesting thing about this album is that it finds Broadside tinkering with their sound and exploring the depths of their songwriting. While their last effort, Into The Raging Sea, took listeners on a journey through the darkest of thoughts, Hotel Bleu may just be the polar opposite. The latest LP by Broadside (Oliver Baxxter [vocals], Domenic Reid [guitar], and Patrick Diaz [bass]) is vibrant, lush, and as colorful as the name implies.

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Review: Taking Back Sunday – 152

There’s a lot to be said when a band takes a hiatus, re-shuffles their lineup, or just takes a breather to reset their focus on their music. 152 is the first album by Taking Back Sunday in seven years (with their last effort coming in 2016’s Tidal Wave), and arguably their best one yet. The album anniversaries of Tell All Your Friends and the upcoming 20-year mark of Where You Want To Be may have had a hand in TBS re-focusing their attention on their songwriting craft. There is also something to be said of the magic that happens when lead vocalist Adam Lazzara and guitarist John Nolan get in a room together to pen songs. 152 is a career-spanning love letter to the legacy Taking Back Sunday have built over their eight-album tenure, and they show no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

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Review: Crossing I’s Dotting T’s – I Used To Be

The debut LP by rock band Crossing I’s Dotting T’s is a grunge-filled love letter to bands like Deftones, Alice in Chains, and Stone Temple Pilots. I Used To Be has a variety of song types, and more often than not, it hits its intended target. When I last sat down with the lead vocalist from the band, I could tell that his core influences would likely bleed into the band’s debut album. From the soft-loud dynamic found on a Deftones-esque track, called “Far Away,” to the collaborative single with Have Mercy on “Cheap Beers & IOUs,” Crossing I’s Dotting T’s make a memorable first step in the music scene.

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Review: Boys Like Girls – Sunday At Foxwoods

The momentum that Boys Like Girls had going into their fourth studio album, Sunday At Foxwoods, was probably a bit more positive than the band could’ve expected. Having not released any music as a band since 2012, Boys Like Girls could’ve gone in a number of ways, creatively. The Night Game was keeping lead vocalist Martin Johnson busy with a project after Boys Like Girls went on a hiatus, and this 2023 version of the band feels like a marrying of styles and sounds between everything the band members have done (both as solo artists, and as a creative unit). Sunday At Foxwoods is a thrilling return to form for a band that found some early success with their self-titled debut, peaked commercially with Love Drunk (that had a key song feature with a young artist known as Taylor Swift), and they experienced some creative growing pains on Crazy World. The vinyl reissues of Boys Like Girls and Love Drunk seemed to reinvigorate fan interest in the band’s fourth studio album, known as Sunday At Foxwoods, that is kicking off the next phase of this talented pop-rock band.

After a brief, atmospheric introductory song on the title track, Boys Like Girls rock with veteran poise on “The Outside.” It features a stomping, anthemic chorus of, “It’s okay, it’s alright / Baby welcome to life on the outside / Sleep all day, ride all night / Yeah we’re living it up on the outside,” that reminds longtime fans of the band of the magic that happens when these four musicians get together to create music. While longtime lead guitarist Paul DiGiovanni is no longer a part of the band, Jamel Hawke does the band justice by taking over the reins on guitar.

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Review: The Format – Interventions + Lullabies

How does one begin to encapsulate the meteoric rise of lead vocalist Nate Ruess’s career? Like most stories, you start at the very beginning. The Format (Nate Ruess and multi-instrumentalist Sam Means) formed in February 2002, and while their friendship goes as far back as grade school, their band chemistry was felt almost immediately. That electric-charged feeling of when a group of talented musicians come together to make art was felt far and wide in The Format. I first got wind of this band when they opened up for Jimmy Eat World and Paramore, and I found their charming mix of emo, pop, and Beach Boys-esque melodies to be immediately infectious. The Format was signed to Elektra Records for what would become their debut LP, Interventions + Lullabies, and much like many other major label artists during this period of time, the merging of record companies led to conflicts on whom the executives found worth pushing on radio, MTV, etc. The Format were ultimately left on the outside looking in when Warner Brothers (and finally Atlantic Records) had the rights to the band’s music. “The First Single” was the only song to be promoted during this album cycle, and it would remain a staple in the band’s set until their breakup in 2008.

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Review: Mansions – Tuff Luff

You know a band means something to you when you can remember your first time hearing them.

The first time I heard Mansions, I was a junior in high school working at our local supermarket. About once a week, my older brother (forever shaman of my music tastes) would load up whatever he was listening to on my iPod so I would have new music for bus rides and the lunch breaks where I’d step outside and smoke cigarettes bought for me by a friend. To this day, the songs I associate with that first job – and much of my junior and senior years of high school – are Mansions’, a band skilled at capturing the whirlwind of youthful emotions I was experiencing at the time. 

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Review: PHNTMS – “Lost On Your Love”

The latest single from synth-rock band, PHNTMS, is a great blast of new wave energy, paired with vibrant guest vocals from April Rose Gabrielli. “Lost On Your Love” features the trademark picturesque guitar playing from Adam Jessamine, in a style similar to bands like The 1975 and The Aces, and he commands the song throughout the inner-workings on the synth-laden track. Gabrielli is a nice choice for guest vocals on this single that is lyrically based on the feeling of falling head over heels in love, and the bliss that comes with it.

PHNTMS continue to expand their great repertoire on their latest release, and show no signs of slowing down anytime soon. While the band has largely been releasing singles to keep interest high in their brand of synth-rock, I would personally love to see how they would package a few songs together in a cohesive work of art in the form of an album, or at least an EP. For now, songs like “Lost On Your Love” remind us of why bands like PHNTMS are a rare breed.

Review: A Story Told – Mundane Magic

The latest musical offering from pop/rock band, A Story Told, is an electric-charged adrenaline ride of breathtaking hooks, pop breakdowns, and intricate storytelling in the lyrics to have lasting value. Mundane Magic is the fourth studio album from the Charleston, West Virginia band that is blossoming at just the right moment in their career. “Mundane Magic is the best way that I could possibly sum up this musical journey that the three of us have been on for years,” says vocalist Alex Chaney. “A friend once told me that the industry is a pendulum. You leave relevancy as quickly as you find it. I’m unapologetically proud to say our biggest strength is our consistency and commitment to truly being ourselves through our music and deeply committing to each part of the machine that makes us, us.” With a crisp musical delivery similar to bands like Bad Suns, The Cab, and Grayscale, A Story Told are making sure this album cycle is a memorable one.

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Review: Blink-182 – One More Time…

Blink-182 - One More Time...

It’s February 2023, 3:08 PM. Phone buzzes. Unknown number. Local area code.

”Tate, this still you?”

I’m thinking, “I can ignore this, right?” I almost always ignore these. But there’s something in the familiarity of the phrasing that picks at a scab in my brain. A small circle of people in my life have ever called me Tate. Most of them were from my childhood neighborhood. None of whom I’ve spoken to in over a decade. The silence between us is not due to any real falling out but a byproduct of the stretching of time that turns brothers into strangers.

It’s September 1997, 6:45 AM. I’m 14 years old and panicking. I’m about to start my first year of high school, and I am fucking terrified. Middle school was rough. And standing there alone in my parent’s basement has my skin feeling like a hand-me-down Halloween costume. Who am I? Who the ever-living-fuck am I? I walk to the bus stop. It’s raining. I have no music in my ears. Up to this point in my life, music has been something that happened around me. My parents played music in the background, friends showed me some grunge and metal records; I heard pop music on the radio. But I was a passive passenger to the sounds that washed over me. A hook searching for bait in a world rapidly changing before my childhood eyes.

Second stop, a few kids I know jump on.

”Hey, Tate, have you met Ryan?”

Friendships formed through the collective trauma that is high school tend to have a weightier feel as we get older. Reminiscing on them is like the smell of pencil shavings, graphite and wood clipping the air, pulling us back to a simpler time. A nostalgic breeze where youth was the possibility of forever; that’s why we chase its intoxicating scent.

Over the next few months, Ryan and I will bond over girls, late-night phone calls, and navigating this torturous linoleum hell. He has an effortless cool that I admire and a confidence I try to fake. Our personalities play off each other well. We become fast friends while our neighborhood group reconnects. Most days after school, we are in the park trading insults and arguing over pop culture, or downstairs, alternating between shooting pool and fighting over the video game controllers. Our pubescent faces stuffed with everything my teenage metabolism would race to process. I never had any friends later on like the ones I had during those days. (Jesus, does anyone?)

One afternoon, Ryan will leave his CD binder at my house. That night, I’ll slide a grey album cosplaying as a six shooter’s cylinder out from a sleeve backed by a bull’s giant testicles and hit play. Never again will I walk to the bus without music. That’s the night I discovered Blink-182. And nothing’s been quite the same ever since.

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Review: The Menzingers – Some Of It Was True

The Philadelphia-based punk rockers, The Menzingers, are showing no signs of slowing down on their great seventh studio album called Some Of It Was True. Produced by Brad Cook (Bon Iver, the War on Drugs, Waxahatchee), the album feels as reinvigorated as the band themselves, and highlights the band’s songwriting improvements from moving away from more introspective songs to more worldly issues that affect the lives of everyone around us. While their last record, Hello Exile, was drenched in the cloud of COVID quarantines, Some Of It Was True finds The Menzingers reaching outside of their usual comfort zone of writing by expanding upon the ideas they’ve tinkered with over their storied career, and quite possibly, creating their most fully-realized work of art to date. This album was recorded at the legendary Sonic Ranch in the heart of El Paso, Texas, and this foursome utilized the strengths of producer Brad Cook to create a record that not only moves the needle of creativity further down the line for The Menzingers, but also makes for an ultra-memorable statement as one of the best albums of 2023.

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Review: As Good As It Gets – Some Fantastic

The latest EP from Kentucky two-piece pop rock band, As Good As It Gets, called Some Fantastic, is a love letter to the pop-punk bands we all grew up with like Weezer, Green Day and The Starting Line. While As Good As It Gets wear these influences proudly on their sleeves, Some Fantastic offers up some glimmers of a direction the band can take as they continue to develop their sound. Having formed in 2001, and releasing 3 EPs and 3 LPs during that period of time, As Good As It Gets are coming to terms for what works well for them, and they hone in on those elements on this record.

”Keep The Lights On” is a brash, pop-punk rocker that is in the same vein of punk rock bands like The Homeless Gospel Choir and Gob, while “Pushing Papers” finds the two-piece band adding in some well-placed piano/keys to expand upon their sound. The lyrical material covers the pitfalls of working a 9 to 5 job, and trying to make ends meet, all the while looking for those key parts of inspiration in their true love: music.

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