Review: Camp Trash – Downtiming

Camp Trash

The revival of beloved emo label Count Your Lucky Stars has been great to watch, and with their recent signing of Florida’s Camp Trash, it looks like the label’s got a bright future again. The four-piece is a bit of an outlier for the label, however; their style of emo is far from the sad, twinkling sort the label made its name on. Instead, Camp Trash draws on the poppier stylings of bands like The Get Up Kids and Saves the Day, but with a modern edge, similar to Oso Oso’s basking in the glow. Downtiming, the band’s debut EP, doesn’t feel like a rehash, though, or a relic. It feels like a statement entirely Camp Trash’s own.

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Review: Beach Bunny – Blame Game

Beach Bunny - Blame Game

The latest taste of new music from Beach Bunny comes in the form of an eclectic group of tunes called Blame Game. Their first full-length record, Honeymoon, found its way onto several “Best of 2020” lists, and it seemed as if the young four-piece indie rock band from Chicago, Illinois was steadily gaining confidence knowing that they would be releasing music with more eyes clearly focused on them. Beach Bunny were poised for this moment, as they released some of their most steadfast songs to date on this EP.

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Review: Fell From the Tree – ENOUGH

Fell from the Tree - ENOUGH

If the Pet Shop Boys’ vocalist Neil Tennant was the first music critic turned stupendously successful musician, Hannah Jocelyn aka Fell from the Tree should be the next in line. She is the editor at Singles Jukebox and has written for Pitchfork and Billboard, among others (I cannot say for sure whether her experience as a journalist influences her songwriting, but I would like to think it does). As an artist, her influences track from electropop, to hip hop, to post-punk; all wrestling for the same urgency.

“I thought I needed more time to sort it out, I guess I prayed too hard for the world to stop,” Jocelyn sings above a demanding bassline and beats bubbling with tension beneath her vocal on “Tread Water.” She is somewhat anxious, finally all her; on her fourth album, ENOUGH, the last album she will release under the Fell from the Tree moniker. Amid a global pandemic, personal issues are suddenly meaningless, right? But they cannot be so easily erased.

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Review: Cold Weather Kids – Quarantunes

The latest EP from Cold Weather Kids was created in the midst of the on-going pandemic, so it seemed only appropriate to tag this latest collection of songs with the Quarantunes moniker. With a mix of styles in the same vein as Bayside, Pierce the Veil, and the pop sensibilities of AJR, the band have continued to explore the possibilities of their unique brand of pop-punk. The record was mixed by Nick Radovanovic (Stand Atlantic, Grandson) and mastered by Justin Perkins (Screaching Weasel), who both put stamp on these three songs that have some interesting moments to them.

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Review: Taylor Swift – Evermore

Taylor Swift - evermore

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Taylor Swift’s folklore was one of 2020’s few saving graces. For myself and many other Taylor fans, the songs on that album were a salve to sooth some of the heartbreak and disappointment of this year. Even the discourse around the songs was a welcome distraction from all the bad things happening around us. That the album would never have come to exist, likely in any form, without the pandemic is one of the only positives in this remarkably net-negative hellscape we’ve been living in since March. So when Taylor announced that she’d be dropping a sequel album called evermore last Thursday, it felt a bit like lightning striking twice. The first album was a sepia-toned autumnal beauty shot through with the wistful strains of a dying summer—in 2020’s case, a lost summer. Released two weeks out from what could be the loneliest Christmas many people ever experience, evermore promised to be folklore’s wintry twin: a cold-weather soundtrack full of snow-strewn backdrops, frosty windows, and solitary reflections. Taylor positioned the album as her gift to everyone else for her 31st birthday, but it’s more like alternative Christmas music in a year when playing the usual celebratory Christmas tunes seems bizarre or even profane. Tis the damn season, folks, and Taylor Swift is here to get you through it.

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Review: Foxy Shazam – Burn

Foxy Shazam - Burn

The world needs more bands like Foxy Shazam. With their unique blend of charisma and theatrics in their music, there isn’t a single uninteresting moment on their latest LP called Burn. The band has always had a flair for the theatrical and glam elements of the 70’s rock era, but they really go for their full-fledged modern take on that era of music with their latest album. With some songs teetering on the edge of Queen, to David Bowie, and Led Zeppelin all thrown into the mix, the band is more than capable of creating a record that pays direct homage to past artists, while still making the end result feel fresh for newer audiences. Their eccentric front-man Eric Nally took the majority of the songwriting and vocal duties on the album, but there is plenty of new elements to Foxy Shazam’s evolution as an artist. The album was recorded remotely with members of the band working in three different studios, yet the end product feels as cohesive as if the band were in the same room creating this music simultaneously.

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Review: Miley Cyrus – Plastic Hearts

Miley Cyrus - Plastic Hearts

2020 really is the year of the female artist, isn’t it? From Taylor Swift releasing arguably releasing the most pandemic-appropriate album we could have ever hoped for, to Dua Lipa knocking us on our ass with some perfectly crafted dance-pop bliss, and Phoebe Bridgers earning several well-deserved Grammy nominations for her work, everything seemed to be shifting towards rightfully recognizing female artists for their contributions to music. Enter Miley Cyrus who has delivered a raucous collection of rock-tinged pop songs known as Plastic Hearts to close out the year. Usually albums released this late in the year fall under the radar, as every publication seems to want to rush out their year-end lists before December even sees the light of day. Plastic Hearts is definitely one of those breathtaking moments of recognizing great pop music from an artist beginning to realize her rock prowess at just the right time.

The record launches with the bratty, punk sneer of “WTF Do I Know” where Cyrus establishes herself firmly in the rock genre with a pulsating bass line and cranked up guitars. Cyrus explains her state of mind in the chorus as she sings confidently, “What the fuck do I know? I’m alone / Guess I couldn’t be somebody’s hero / You want an apology not from me / Had to leave you in your own misery / So tell me, baby, am I wrong that I moved on and I / And I don’t even miss you? / Thought that it’d be you until I die / But I let go, what the fuck do I know?” The track quickly fades away as we make our way into the title track where Cyrus sings over a tribal beat. She provides a little more insight on the change in gears of genres on the second verse as she sings, “Hello, I’ll tell you all the people I know / Sell you something that you already own / I can be whoever you want me to be / Love me now but not tomorrow / Fill me up but leave me hollow / Pull me in but don’t you get too close.” It’s almost as if Miley is telling her audience that she can be whatever persona that best suits her metamorphosis into a female rocker as long as we are there to accept her for who she is.

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Review: Billie Joe Armstrong – No Fun Mondays

Billie Joe Armstrong - No Fun Mondays

While some artists were keen to wait out the pandemic before releasing music, Billie Joe Armstrong took advantage of the extra time on his hands to release a series of covers that known as the No Fun Mondays compilation. He covered a wide breadth of artists from almost all genres, including The Bangles, The Clash, John Lennon, and Tommy James and the Shondells. Despite the branded name, these songs turned out to be quite the enjoyable listening experience as Billie Joe showcased his impressive knowledge of historical artists and made each rendition feel updated for new ears.

The set kicks off with the Tommy James and the Shondells’ classic, “I Think We’re Alone Now” that got most of its longevity from the 80’s cover by the artist known as Tiffany. The guitar-based cover song stays true to the basic arrangement of the original, and Billie Joe’s trademark vocal performance is still up to par. “War Stories” by The Starjets quickly follows the opener and keeps the momentum going for a perfect slab of melodic punk rock well within the repertoire of the Green Day front-man. Billie Joe does an impressive job of commanding the track while going into his higher register on the chorus and bridge as he delivers a worthwhile rendition.

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Review: My Chemical Romance – Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys

My Chemical Romance - Danger Days

The one constant in the career arc of My Chemical Romance has been reinvention. From each record’s sound to the wardrobe used on stage for each album cycle, MCR has never been strangers to pushing the boundaries of what is expected of them and their music. On Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, My Chemical Romance would reinvent themselves for the fourth time and deliver their boldest artistic statement to date. Having scrapped a full album’s worth of material (that would later be known as Conventional Weapons) in-between recording The Black Parade and this album, fans and critics alike were looking forward to seeing how Gerard Way, Frank Iero, Mikey Way, and Ray Toro would come back into the limelight after the massively successful third record. Danger Days ranges from thrilling sing-a-long anthems to power-pop and their trademark take on punk/emo rock alike. With so much riding on this career-defining record, how would everyone react to the material that would come through the speakers?

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Review: Silverstein – REDUX II

Silverstein - Redux

It’s amazing how much a single year can throw a wrench into our plans. 2020 has made all of us re-focus our thoughts and priorities as we deal with a global pandemic that has forced us to make sacrifices along the way. Silverstein were poised and ready to tour on their recently released 10th studio album, A Beautiful Place to Drown when the world had other plans for the post-hardcore veterans. Having recently celebrated 20 years since their formation as band, Silverstein turned the unique situation into an opportunity to revisit some of their classic songs and deep cuts from past records for an album now known as REDUX II. The new recordings that made the cut for this record range from simple re-polishing of beloved songs that feel fresh for a new audience, to major enhancements to the song arrangement.

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Review: I Am The Avalanche – DIVE

I Am The Avalanche - Dive

It feels great to have I Am The Avalanche back. With their first studio album in six years, DIVE wastes little time getting down to the business at hand with some incredibly well-crafted tunes. Lead single “Better Days” opens the record with a perfect build up to an ultra-melodic chorus. Lead vocalist Vinnie Caruana had this to say about opening the album with the track: “Not only is it the intro track to the record, but it is also the song the first the band wrote together since 2014’s Wolverines. It’s all about realizing too late how good you had it and raising a “drink to better days.” Oddly enough, it was written before the world went to hell in a handbasket earlier this year – making it an eerie prophecy.” Interestingly, many of these songs found on DIVE are the perfect soundtrack to the uncertainty of the days ahead of us while still remaining cautiously optimistic that things can improve.

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Review: Arms and Hearts – The Distance Between

Arms and Hearts - The Distance Between

The Manchester melodic punk act formed by Steve Millar, better known as Arms & Hearts, makes a solid introduction to the folk-punk scene on The Distance Between. With a raspy voice that ranges from the howl of songwriting veterans such as Brian Fallon and Chuck Ragan, Millar makes a powerful opening statement on this collection of nine well-structured songs. The material teeters between sounding like a singer-songwriter at a dimly lit nightclub, to the full-bled passion of a punk band packed to capacity in a sweaty venue. What Millar does best is making his listeners hang on his every word as he sways from a soft croon to a blood-curdling scream.

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Review: A Day to Remember – What Separates Me From You

What Separates Me From You

There aren’t many bands out there like A Day to Remember. They’re a group that can hit you with crunching guitars, thunderous drums, and earth-shattering screams while also having the capability to make fast pop-punk songs and gentle acoustic ballads. This sounds like a combination that shouldn’t work, yet they’ve found a way to pull it off time and time again.

ADTR’s fourth album, What Separates Me From You, further proved that A Day to Remember will never fit into a certain mold. They’re going to make the kind of music they want to make, whether that’s fun pop-punk or metalcore. Each A Day to Remember album is a grab bag of genres, but here the band (consisting Jeremy McKinnon – singer, Neil Westfall – rhythm guitarist, Joshua Woodard – bass, Alex Shelnutt – drums and Kevin Skaff – lead guitarist) started to explore their poppier side like they never have before.  

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Review: Chris Stapleton – Starting Over

Chris Stapleton - Starting Over

Chris Stapleton, it seems, has little interest in being famous. Five years on from the CMA Awards team-up with Justin Timberlake that made Stapleton a superstar, he’s yet to cash in on his A-list status in any of the significant way, barring perhaps playing concerts in bigger rooms. His follow-up to 2015’s Traveller could have been gargantuan. He easily could have called in another favor from Timberlake for a guest feature, and you have to assume that other famous pop stars, country stars, songwriters, and producers were lining up to work with him. Yet, rather than deliver a bid for crossover success, Stapleton dropped a pair of albums that were, essentially, b-side collections. From A Room: Vol. 1 and From A Room: Vol. 2, released roughly six months apart in 2017, were made up of covers and songs that Stapleton had written during his long career as a writer for a Nashville publishing agency. The songs didn’t grapple with Stapleton’s newfound fame, nor did they really push any boundaries in terms of sonics or structure. Instead, both records played like low-stakes almost-demo collections, with spartan production, no notable features, and no-frills production from Dave Cobb, the same guy who’d sat behind the boards for Traveller.

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Review: Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension

Sufjan Stevens - The Ascension

When reviewing a new record from Sufjan Stevens, at this stage in his 20+ year career, the opening paragraph practically writes itself. You can start by recapping his much-publicized, albeit half-serious, ambitions to create an album about each US state; then discuss his (also ambitious) zany pursuits, many of which involve Christmas songs; then shift to his mid-career pivot towards spazzy electronica; and then take us to his critically acclaimed acoustic works over the past five years. Let’s forgo all that (at least any further) and just state the obvious fact that Stevens’s new record, The Ascension, adds to a singular, shape-shifting discography. Which, if you haven’t listened, or listened much, to any of this output, then I suggest you do not start with Stevens’s newest album, which is not necessarily a “for fans only” release but doesn’t consistently capture the magic of earlier records. Instead, let me suggest the first half of Illinois for dazzling orchestral Americana that sounds as unique now as it did 15 years ago; the last two songs from The Age of Adz for glitchier electronica rooted in folk, as if I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn were synthesized into one record; and the middle of Carrie and Lowell for achingly vulnerable, sparsely arranged songs about abandonment, death, love, and forgiveness. 

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