From the opening notes of Saves The Day’s now-legendary emo album, Through Being Cool, Chris Conley confidently sings, “This isn’t the way we planned / I wasn’t supposed to forget your taste,” and it’s almost as if Conley and his band knew they might be on to something extraordinary here. The irony behind an album about leaving the cool kids to their cliques, while sitting a few out much like the cover art depicts, is humorous now because Saves the Day became emo legends on this record. Those same kids who wouldn’t give Conley and crew the time of day back in high school, are probably the ones now asking them for autographs after a show. This album was recently overlooked by Kerrang! magazine on the 25 greatest emo albums ever, much to my chagrin.
Looking back at the numerous bands influenced by this band and this album, in particular, one can not merely brush this record off as just another emo album. Instead with heart-on-my-sleeve lyrics about their hometown on songs such as “You Vandal,” where Conley sings, “I woke up to my cold sheets and the smell of New Jersey / When do I get to wake up to you?” there was no stopping this band’s ascent into greatness.
The 15th anniversary of the My Chemical Romance classic has come and gone, but with the recent news of them reuniting, I just couldn’t wait five more years to write about Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge. I vividly remember my first time hearing this record. I was a 21-year old, shopping at my local Hot Topic, browsing the listening station of the recent CD releases. The Three Cheers artwork grabbed my attention from the first look, and I knew I had to see what the band had come up with, having only seen them open up for The Used at the 9:30 Club about a year prior. The album was produced by one of all-time favorites, Howard Benson, and had it not been for my immediate trust in the producer; I may have waited to purchase this album until a few weeks later. What I was not expecting was just how professional, polished, and amazing the record was, as I became immediately transported into the world of MCR. From the opening notes of “Helena,” I knew this band had created something incredibly special, immediate, and gripping from the very first listen. It’s safe to say that this immediate purchase of the record was not one that I came to regret.
Rewind for a minute back to 1999. Nu-metal looms large with bands such as Limp Bizkit and Korn dominating the airwaves and record sales. RollingStone magazine is saying for the millionth time that rock is dead, or at the very least, on life support. Little did that magazine realize, a small yet remarkable movement was taking place. Incubus had started to establish a good career for themselves on their sophomore studio effort S.C.I.E.N.C.E. , and were slowly but surely getting rock fans to turn their heads towards the Calabasas-based band. Enter the third studio album, Make Yourself that has just turned 20 years old. Produced by veteran hit-maker Scott Litt, Incubus made a conscious effort to leave the nu-metal bands they built a scene with scratching their heads in disbelief as the band would evolve their sound into an alternative rock powerhouse that would go on to sell over two million records in the United States alone. While Incubus had grabbed my attention on S.C.I.E.N.C.E., they became my new favorite band on Make Yourself.
I often wonder if Ian Curtis had any idea of the legacy Joy Division would have on musicians young and old. I wonder if he predicted the emergence of a platform like Tumblr, where teenagers who heard “Love Will Tear Us Apart” one time subsequently purchased Unknown Pleasures banners and proudly hung them over their bedroom doors. Curtis ripped open the door for artists keen on expressing the inner turmoil bubbling beneath the flashing lights and glam rock tunes of the 80s, with his lyrical emphasis on alienation and loneliness. Radiohead, The Smashing Pumpkins, Interpol and Danny Brown (his fourth album, Atrocity Exhibition is named after the Joy Division song) are just a handful of artists who wouldn’t have evolved into the artists they are without the fleeting existence of a little post-punk band from Salford, England.
Now, New York-based electronic artist Chris Stewart has released his third album under the Black Marble moniker, Bigger Than Life. The album follows 2016’s It’s Immaterial, which was labeled as an “Ian Curtis-garage dance party you’ve never been to” by Kristin Porter at SLUG Magazine. With comments like that, Stewart left himself nowhere to go but up. More coldwave than his post-punk roots, Bigger Than Life hosts another dance party, adding a bit more polish without depriving us sad suckers the melancholia we so crave.
The mystery, indecisiveness, and possible controversy surrounding Third Eye Blind’s sixth studio album only added to the allure and likability of Screamer. In many interviews, front-man Stephan Jenkins went as far as to say that there would never be a sixth studio album from Third Eye Blind, which came as a big shock to those who have been following the band during this decade. Coming off multiple successful tours with their name at the top of the bill, Third Eye Blind has done plenty to remove themselves from the pack of 90’s bands who could only dream of Jenkins and his bandmates’ sustained success. Dopamine, their last proper full-length was released in 2015, and they followed that record up with an equally charming collection of cover songs affectionately titled Thanks For Everything. With such an ominous EP title, one could only think Jenkins was living up to his word about hanging up the studio production output from the Third Eye Blind moniker. Luckily for us, Jenkins and 3EB’s long-time drummer Brad Hargreaves, guitarists Kryz Reid and Colin Creev, and bassist Alex LeCavilier collectively came together to deliver Screamer.
When I first got word of Mark Hoppus and Alex Gaskarth joining forces for a band that would become Simple Creatures, my reaction was that they would be able to play off of each other’s strengths as songwriters and musicians brilliantly. Little did I know that this side project of sorts would morph into one of my favorite electronica-driven new bands to come out of this decade. Twelve songs later into their debut in 2019, and we are left with a much better picture of who Simple Creatures are. Whereas Strange Love was an introduction to the band and what they were capable of, Everything Opposite finds Mark and Alex at their most confident, accomplished, and strongest.
At least on the surface level, the title for Jimmy Eat World ‘s 10th full-length album feels like a proclamation. Surviving. Not many bands know quite as much about surviving as Jimmy Eat World. They’ve weathered a lot over the years: getting dropped by their first major label; being (incorrectly) considered a one-hit wonder by many; being a part of a genre and a music scene that most critics have always written off; touring with Third Eye Blind, apparently. Perhaps the most impressive thing they’ve survived is time. When I first started seriously listening to Jimmy Eat World, they’d been a band for ten years and were about to release the follow-up to their breakthrough LP. Fast-forward a decade and a half, and the band is celebrating 25 years and ten albums. They’ve kept the same four-person lineup since 1995 and have released a new album, like clockwork, every three years since 2001. And they remain as beloved today as they ever have been—a go-to “favorite band” for seemingly every person who follows them.
Bodega burst onto the post-punk scene in July 2018. Teeming with style and homages as overt as The B-52s and Gang of Four, the Brooklyn-based band’s debut album, Endless Scroll displayed an intelligent, witty group with a fully formed catalog of ideas. “Your playlist knows you better than a closest lover,” sings Ben Hozie on “How Did This Happen?!,” a biting take on the guilt of “the cultural consumer.” In “I Am Not A Cinephile,” Bodega challenges the systems of imperialism, racism, misogyny, and capitalism that allowed the universe of Alfred Hitchcock to be filmed. Co-vocalist Nikki Belfiglio channels riot-grrrl energy in an ode to female pleasure in “Gyrate.” Album highlight, “Truth Is Not Punishment” has two appearances (Long and Short) on the band’s new EP, Shiny New Model.
Endless Scroll quickly established Bodega as a band that questions oppressive systems, male idols, and consumerism. After a year of touring, the making of Shiny New Model marked a series of firsts for the band. It’s the only recording session they’ve had in a studio, the first recording with new drummer Tai Lee (previously a performer in the show STOMP), and the band handled production for the first time. On Shiny New Model, Bodega presents a new bunch of questions. This time around, there’s even more ground to cover.
When I last spoke with Vinnie Caruana a few weeks ago, he was incredibly excited to share his solo record Aging Frontman with everyone. Now that I’ve had some time to absorb everything that is in this fantastic album, Vinnie and my conversation still sticks in mind with his cautious optimism towards his outlook on not only his music, but his life and accomplishments as well. Aging Frontman on the surface is an observation of Vinnie’s outlook on his great career with bands such as The Movielife, and I Am The Avalanche, yet this solo record solidifies an even greater standing with just how accomplished a musician and songwriter Vinnie Caruana is and has become.
There’s not much of a tradition of emo in the UK. In the 90s, emo developed so geographically that the generally-used term for it is ‘Midwest emo,’ since its sound was incubated by bands like Cap’n Jazz from Illinois, The Promise Ring from Wisconsin, The Get Up Kids from Missouri. That’s not to say that that scene was by any means insular; Texas is the Reason from New York, Jimmy Eat World from Arizona and Mineral from Texas all had distinctly ‘Midwestern’ sounds, and the forebearers of any one of those bands were Sunny Day Real Estate from Washington state and Jawbreaker from California. Plus, none of it would have happened without the Revolution Summer bands from DC, most notably Embrace and Rites of Spring, and perhaps, more importantly, Fugazi which sprung from both of them. Cross-country touring, plus zines and demo exchanges, meant that emo was pretty effectively shared across every corner of the States. Many of those bands did tour the UK too – Braid and The Get Up Kids went over there together in 1998 – but it seemingly wasn’t enough to imprint on the UK its own parallel scene, at least not one that made enough of an impact to enter the canon of emo as we talk about it twenty years on.
What we have now is ‘fourth-wave’ emo (also known as emo revival), a spiritual continuation of that Midwestern scene, with the difference being that this one was and is built heavily around Bandcamp, Twitter, and online blogs like PropertyOfZack, The Alternative and, yeah, Chorus.fm. Since house shows and local community amongst bands are still key to DIY, it didn’t bring about a total eradication of geography – ask anyone about the Philadelphia scene, for example – but it does mean that now there’s no ocean for music to travel, bands that emulate the 90s Midwestern sound can pop up anywhere.
When The Lumineers set out to record the follow-up their highly successful sophomore effort, Cleopatra, the band managed to raise their expectations for what would become III. The album is presented in three chapters: each coming with their own set of themes, topics, and overall feel. The album itself progresses nicely as it unfolds over these chapters, and co-founder/multi-instrumentalist of The Lumineers, Jeremiah Frates mentioned in an interview that, “This collection of songs worked out in a beautiful way, and I feel with this album we’ve really hit our stride.” The confidence that comes through on this record can be felt, but it’s a bit of a departure from the upbeat nature of their second record. What we are left with is an “artist’s record” that stays true to who The Lumineers are as both people, as well as musicians.
At the end of 2016, Sturgill Simpson managed maybe the most unlikely Grammy Album of the Year nomination of the modern era, for his third LP, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. A few months later, he lost that particular award—to Adele—but did manage to walk away with a Grammy for Best Country Album. None of those things are going to happen again, and it’s not because Sound & Fury, the long-awaited follow-up to Sailor’s Guide, isn’t great. Rather, it’s because Sound & Fury 1) isn’t a country album, and 2) is even more blatantly unmarketable than its predecessor.
In a lot of ways, Sound & Fury is an anomaly in the 2019 music world. It’s the sound of a guy who was once hailed as a country music savior—first for his trad-country debut High Top Mountain and later for the experimental, boundary-pushing Metamodern Sounds in Country Music—callously tossing that mantle in the fire. It’s also the sound of an artist who was on the cusp of superstardom—maybe not quite Chris Stapleton/arena-concert-tour level, but close—walking away from it. Finally, it’s a loud, dirty, unapologetic ‘70s-style rock album—the kind that absolutely no one makes anymore. The guitars are so loud and so prominent that they sometimes threaten to drown Sturgill’s voice out entirely. Not that he’d probably mind.
The inherent nature of a “goal” is to be currently out of reach. Whether far down the road or just fingertips away, goals are the checkpoints we set to help us navigate the uncertainty of life. But the problem, ironically enough, is that uncertainty turns out to be one hell of a goaltender. It’s a relentless opponent that’s not above mind games, and if left unchecked, will tug at the threads of our insecurities until we’re left completely unwoven. Fortunately for So Money, Baby, the Arizona quartet known as Breakup Shoes have provided a bit of sugar for the pill, pairing soda pop sweet, surf-flavored indie rock with a bare-skinned attempt to snip the thread and prevent further undoing.
Mid-album single “Accessory” hits on the central theme surrounding vocalist Nick Zawisa’s core emotional vulnerability — an unrequited love. With a warm, muted bass tone, Derek Lafforthun drives his bandmates through mellow verses in a lackadaisical swagger, crafting a melody of his own before giving way to a subtle, but undeniably strong vocal hook: “I just want to be what you hold close / I just want to be who you love most”. The majority of the lyrical content throughout So Money, Baby is spent this way, deliberating on “what if” scenarios penned by a hopeless romantic. Frankly, there’s not much to be said for it — often left to be desired across the record is a semblance of nuance in exchange for the melodrama. But in the moments where Zawisa opts to deviate from the norm, he briefly lifts the veil to a more compelling premise: the longing to be wanted at all, and the seeping dubiety in meditating on his goals of finding any form of significance in a life outside his own.
The haunting first lyrics on “Leather Daddy” from Microwave ‘s latest record, Death is a Warm Blanket, come in packed with depth, substance, and relatability. When front-man/guitarist Nathan Hardy sings, “If you don’t want to talk, then just don’t talk /I’m fine with us just sitting in silence / If you want me to go then just say so / You can drop me off somewhere / I don’t know…I don’t have anywhere to go,” it’s nearly impossible not point to a relationship or friendship in the past or present that fits in with this rhetoric. We’ve all been in relationships when things just aren’t clicking, and it feels like we reach a point where we stop caring. Microwave are able to bottle up a ton of angst and polish it up enough to make an album worthy of being engulfed in.
The praise and allure surrounding the seventh studio album from Thrice is one that I initially didn’t fully grasp at my first listen, nearly ten years ago to the day. Maybe I was in a bad mood that day or was distracted during my listening experience, because as I revisit Beggars now, I can’t fathom how I would have felt anything but pure astonishment and wide-eyed wonder at this pre-hiatus masterpiece by the California rockers. Beggars was released digitally a full month before the physical release date of September 15th, 2009, which gave eager fans a chance to absorb the new sounds from Thrice before rushing out to their local record store the month after. From songs as immediately gratifying as “All the World is Mad” to the progressive-rock elements of “Circles,” Beggars had a little bit of everything from all phases of Thrice’s expansive discography. The self-produced record (with a specific and well-deserved credit to lead guitarist Teppei Teranishi) is a wonderful snapshot of what the band was capable of making when firing on all cylinders.
A look back at this record brings back many emotions for me from hearing these songs live as recently as their spring tour, and now that I have the foresight of seeing where Thrice would eventually take their sound, one can’t help but praise this album as being one of their best.
On the latest record from San Diego, California rockers Western Settings they begin to embrace the uncertainty of living with the unpredictability of each passing day on Another Year. For those unfamiliar with the band, they remind me a lot of established punk rockers Alkaline Trio with a solid mix of pop sensibilities of The Ataris. Comparisons aside, Another Year rocks with a newfound immediacy not usually found with bands less than ten years under their belts.
Despite all of its bittersweet essence, few things are as inherently mesmerizing as a reflection on the past. For every new pin in our cork boards, it grows easier by the day to become entangled in the through-line that connects them — from our most inimitable highs, to the devastatingly irreclaimable lows. The sight of the same model car you once drove can trigger an afternoon’s worth of flashbacks, places visited, and relationships formed. A sudden difficult decision may silently launch a week of intricate recollection. Retracing steps, tiring over minute details and things left unsaid. And though we can’t control it, the fact remains that on some level, our memories are revisited daily. We subconsciously roam the rooms of our mind, dusting its shelves and replaying stories like slides in an old projector. Toeing the line between toxic and therapeutic behavior. In a sense, the deliberate attempt to walk that line is perhaps the most distinguishable aspect of what sets Nella Vita apart from the pack of Grayscale’s pop-punk contemporaries.
“I drove past your mother’s house / just to see how it felt / How’s it all been since we were kids / Just hope that you’re doing well.”
The latest EP from Las Vegas-quintet Amarionette marks the next logical step in their unique pop-rock sound in an album that they have titled Evolution. The record is filled with shiny pop harmonies, pounding drums, and plenty of bright-colored synths to round out their repertoire. Led by the first single, “No Control,” Amarionette are taking full advantage of their turn in the limelight with a self-released record worthy of more exposure in 2019.
Debut albums are rarely this immediately endearing, but when you make excellent dreamscape rock, such as what Silver Bars have created here on Center of the City Lights, it finds a way to pull you in. The Austin, Texas four-piece are led by vocalist and guitarist Paula J. Smith, and her confident vocal delivery allows the rest of the group to fill out the wall-of-sound that encompasses the majority of the record. Much like other dream pop-bands such as Beach House, Silver Bars have created sonic musical landscapes with cranked up guitars to help them stand apart.
The 10-track album is filled with lush sounding rock songs, and the band sounds as confident as ever in their delivery. Led by the single, “Lost You to L.A.” Silver Bars’ introduction to the music world allows the listener to come along for the ride with favorable results in the listening experience. The dual-guitar attack from Smith and Ken Hatten is the band’s real strength, as they know exactly when to crank up the sound, or allow a song to brood for a bit. Rounding out the unit is the ultra-talented bassist Stephen Thurman and drummer Johnny Wilkins.
It isn’t often that I hear an album that feels tailor-made for me. Modern Nature’s debut album, How To Live might be it. Bounding off the tails of the twelve-minute epic “Supernature” from the supergroup’s debut EP, Nature, vocalist Jack Cooper (ex-Ultimate Painting), keyboardist Will Young (BEAK>) and drummer Aaron Neveu (Woods) climb to great heights, enhancing their already entrancing compositions with the induction of cellist Rupert Gillett and saxophonist Jeff Tobias (Sunwatchers). It’s Young’s work with BEAK> and Portishead instrumentalist, Geoff Barrow that stunningly complements Cooper’s vision for Modern Nature, blossoming into an astonishing slow-burning tension. In How To Live, the rural and the urban unite; isolation is in decline and endless beauty surfaces.