Ryan Adams made what was, to my ears, his best record ever with 2014’s self-titled effort. More diverse and consistent than Heartbreaker and less bloated than Gold, Love Is Hell, and Cold Roses, Ryan Adams was a tight, taut, and tense collection of songs that saw Adams dealing with the loss of his grandmother and the pressures of a troubled marriage. Two and a half years later, the once-prolific Adams returns with the proper follow-up to his self-titled record, and it’s the closest he’s ever come to making a sequel. Prisoner carries many of the sonic and lyrical hallmarks of its predecessor, from the reverb-heavy production to the clear influence of 1980s Springsteen and Petty records. “Do You Still Love Me,” the opener and lead single, even bears a strong resemblance to the last record’s first track, “Gimme Something Good.”
Like Semisonic sang on their classic 1994 single “Closing Time,” “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” Such is the case on both halves of Jake Clarke and Spur’s new split. Clarke was one of the vocalists of the grunge band Superheaven, and his half of the split sounds like the natural next step from his old band’s ‘90s-inspired rock. Spur, on the other hand, rose from the ashes of the emo band In Writing, and they play a blend of coarse punk and shoegaze.
Andrew McMahon is an artist who has had a very loyal and passionate following for a very long time. Starting with Something Corporate, which offered a piano-led twist on the emo/pop-punk trends of the early 2000s, McMahon has been regarded as a master of melody and a writer capable of churning out fiercely relatable songs. Suffice to say that BuzzFeed hit the nail on the head (for the first and last time) when it labeled “Konstantine” as the emo “Freebird.” When McMahon transitioned his career from Something Corporate into the poppier and more mature Jack’s Mannequin, it was a testament to his talent as a songwriter, his likability as a performer, and the strong personal resonance of his work that just about all of his fans were willing to go along for the ride.
Scott Crawford took what he worked on with Salad Days and brought it to a nice coffee table book format. He compiled a list of influential punk bands from the 80’s DC scene. Each entry gives the perspective of the band members, concert goers, photographers, and more. It’s a thorough look at the history without being overwhelming. The format works well since it focuses a lot on the images and sometimes those can tell stories better than words can.
I wouldn’t say I’m in tune with all of the punk bands from the 80’s era, let alone all of the ones around Washington D.C., but I’d like to think I know at least a little about punk music. This book has the bigger bands you’d expect with Fugazi, Bad Brains, and Minor Threat, but it’s the others that will surprise you if you haven’t done your homework. Ian MacKaye sprinkled his talents around in more bands than I had thought, so he’s a prominent feature in this book.
Over the first ten years of their life, The Menzingers have never shied away from their boozy reputation. Numerous mentions of alcohol – the good and the bad – are littered throughout the Philadelphia band’s first four albums. Which makes the band’s new album, After The Party, so profound – we already know what happens during the party but what happens after, once all the confetti’s been swept up, the beer’s gone flat, and music turned down? After The Party explores the themes of getting older and bridging the gap between a carefree spirit to a more responsible partner while still trying to escape the mundanity of everyday life.
An acoustic album is always a bit of a gamble. To take songs that fans are already attached to and release them in alternate versions runs the risk of losing what they fell in love with in the first place. The Early November have never been afraid of taking that risk. The band released an acoustic EP in 2005 and more recently a full-length acoustic album, Fifteen Years, in celebration of their 15th anniversary.
When we think back on our lives, even on a relatively small scale like, say, the week we just had, we tend not to think on every minute of minutiae we endured. We think of the relatively big things we went through, the stuff that was memorable. Sure, we all eat and have conversations and go to work and sleep and wake up, but we tend to only process it as a necessity: it’s the minute to minute, day to day of being. What’s important to understand, however, is that every second we live, every small little thing we go through, informs literally everything else about us. It’s all a flow of life that causes us to react, to process information, to make decisions, to move forward. It’s the process of life, and it’s the context for who we are as people, and our identities are as grand and important a concept as we’ll ever grapple with.
“It’s a lifeless life, with no fixed address to give/But you’re not mine to die for anymore/So I must live.” On the list of the best lyrics of the decade so far, that one—the most climactic line from the Japandroids’ blistering, cathartic “The House That Heaven Built”—has to be near the top. To me, that line has always been a beautifully apt statement about growing up and moving on. I suppose you could read it as a lyric about a break up, but I prefer to see it as a vow to let go of the things that used to define your life and build new ones in their place.
In a way, that’s exactly what Japandroids are doing on Near to the Wild Heart of Life, their third full-length album and their first in nearly five years. Their last record, 2012’s Celebration Rock, was more appropriately titled than any other album released in the past seven years. Beginning and ending with fireworks, the album raged with pounding guitars, blitzkrieg drums, and shout-along choruses that could put anyone in a party mood. It was an album about being young, staying up all night, making memories with friends, and drinking way more than could feasibly be deemed “necessary.”
I remember the first time I heard Sinai Vessel. It was around four years ago and their sophomore EP profanity had just come out. I was immediately captivated the band’s raucous indie rock – sort of like a more upbeat and aggressive Pedro the Lion. Songs like “Cuckold” and “Flannery” carried the energy and raw emotion of songs by scene favorites like Taking Back Sunday or The Weakerthans. I knew the band had a phenomenal full-length in them, and I knew they going to blow up with its release. But that full-length didn’t come, and I found new bands who gave me similar feelings. I revisited profanity now and then, but mostly when I thought about Sinai Vessel it was to wonder what could’ve been. Then, all of a sudden, I didn’t have to wonder anymore – Sinai Vessel signed to Tiny Engines, one of my favorite active labels, and announced that long-awaited full-length.
Where to even begin with Silence.
Martin Scorsese is my favorite filmmaker. The Departed is a masterwork that served as mine and countless other’s introduction into the world of cinema. To survey the diverse array of films Scorsese has made is to attend film school: to learn how to read a visual story, to realize that every frame has meaning and is communicating something and that, when done expertly, the experience of a film can be profound. It’s to learn the ID of Scorsese: the themes he’s preoccupied with, the ideals he’s interested in exploring. Faith is one of those ideas. The Last Temptation of Christ is likely his masterpiece, a film about Jesus Christ, a legend treated as more than man, and it tests his faith and what his martyrdom means on a human level. Silence is about an ordinary human, not the son of God, facing a similar test of faith. When Scorsese tells this story about a real man in the real world, the grim realities of slavish devotion to faith and dogmatic thinking are exposed for the true devastation they wreak. Faith and morality are not so easily reconciled together.
I’m sure there’s a joke to be made about Dryjacket’s debut album being titled For Posterity, given their throwback sound, but I’m neither clever nor unoriginal enough to make it. There would be truth to it though — from the pun song titles (“Spelling Era,” “Abe LinkedIn”), to the horns, to the dual vocals — everything about For Posterity feels familiar.
You can pull out hints of The Promise Ring and Piebald at every corner of the band’s pop-sensible emo, and the trumpet calls to mind American Football, of course. The band even pays tribute to their more eclectic, more technical forefathers on “Epi Pen Pals” and “Milo with an ‘H.’” This is all to say that, much like my sort of attempted joke, For Posterity isn’t all that original. It plays, generally, like a recap of the genre for anyone who might’ve missed it the first time around.
In the summer of 2015, when I put Chris Stapleton on the last-ever incarnation of AbsolutePunk.net’s Absolute 100—a feature dedicated to celebrating up-and-coming, under the radar artists—I asked a pair of questions that have since proved to be prophetic. The first was “If given the opportunity, how many of country music’s gun-for-hire songwriters could make better records than any of the artists they write for?” The second was “How many of them could make masterpieces?” More than I thought, apparently.
Since Stapleton’s breakout success, the songwriters seem to be taking back Nashville. 2016 brought major critical and/or commercial successes for Maren Morris (who had previously written for Kelly Clarkson and the TV show Nashville), Brandy Clark (who had previously written for Sheryl Crow, Miranda Lambert, and Toby Keith, not to mention a slew of co-writes with Kacey Musgraves), and Lori McKenna (who penned two of the biggest hits in modern country with Tim McGraw’s “Humble & Kind” and Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush”). Hopefully, these big successes will push Nashville labels to take chances on more of their top songsmiths. Who knows how many stars are waiting to be born in the liner notes of your favorite country records.
“Technology is something that I really appreciate, but being someone who comes from hardcore, metal and punk, you’re fighting it at the same time,” says Code Orange’s Jami Morgan about his band’s unforgiving new record, Forever. “It’s almost like the bridge between those two ideas.” That portion from a late 2016 Rolling Stone interview comes to mind every time I listen to Forever (Code Orange’s third full length and major label debut for Roadrunner Records) – a record that embraces technology as much as it wants to destroy it, resulting in a near perfect modern hardcore classic.
It’s been one month since Donald Glover (as Childish Gambino) released his third studio LP, ”Awaken, My Love!”, and surely, that’s enough time to have analyzed it. But this is a tough one. My initial reaction was negative. ”Awaken, My Love!” felt forced, a career’s worth of artistic evolution crammed into one record obsessed with showcasing the new Donald Glover. No longer is he the nerdy optimist with a case of “nice guy syndrome,” his raps filled with more punchlines than his stand-up sets. If 2013’s Because the Internet marked the beginning of a transitional phase for the artist, Glover’s new era of success is defined by even more self-seriousness found in everything from his interviews and his music to his first television show on FX. It’s a self-seriousness that very well may have landed him the role as Lando Calrissian in an upcoming Star Wars film.
I don’t write a lot of film reviews, partially because I write for a music website and partially because I’m not usually on top of new releases enough to prepare anything that is particularly timely or relevant. But I just had to sit down and write something about La La Land, simply because I can’t remember the last time I loved a move so wholeheartedly.
No film in 2016 is more gorgeous to watch than The Love Witch, shot in 35mm and stylized so precisely in every aspect. From the stunning costumes to the popping colors of the cinematography, the carefully constructed sets and the way light shines so perfectly on every object the characters interact with, the film is a visual masterwork. Director Anna Biller, who also wrote the script, edited the film, decorated the sets, and made the costumes, has brought to life an aesthetic vision unlike anything else made this year. Every frame is glorious, the cinematography so absurdly beautiful, an audience is hypnotized. Transfixed by such a magnificent visual work, we’re taken along for a ride for a film about a witch who endlessly seduces men and then, when each one inevitably disappoints her, kills them.
The first time I heard 22, A Million, the long-awaited third album from Bon Iver, I hated it. To my ears, it sounded like a formless mess, devoid of any clear highlights (at least on the level of the best songs from Justin Vernon’s previous albums) and frequently undone by head-scratching production choices. Granted, I was listening to a shitty rip of a shitty stream that had leaked to the internet months in advance. I’d also had my expectations sent through the roof by live recordings of the band’s full playthrough of the record at this year’s Eaux Claires music festival. Even an amateur audience recording of the performance captured the magic of the new songs and made it sound like 22, A Million—despite arriving on five years’ worth of built up anticipation—was going to live up to my every expectation. Hearing the same songs in studio form didn’t hit me the same way, and I spent months considering 22, A Million my biggest disappointment of the year as a result. Even after the album officially released in September and I finally got to hear a full-quality version, I heard it as a distinct step down from its two predecessors.
I’ve been listening to Jimmy Eat World for over half my lifetime. Crazy enough, the last (and only) time I attended a Jimmy Eat World show was in 2005 when they were opening for Green Day on the American Idiot tour. That’s pretty sad! Fortunately, I made some sort of amends this past Thursday when the Arizona quartet made their way through Indianapolis. Headlining one of those radio station holiday shows, the band played a 20+ song set that included a well balanced mixture of hits, deep cuts, fan favorites, and new songs.
Nothing good comes out in December, right? That’s more or less what most of the major music publications would have you believe, as End-of-the-Year lists start hitting the web in earnest earlier and earlier each year. This year, the start date was around Thanksgiving week. Maybe by 2026, we can make it all the way to Halloween! Personally, I’ll never finalize an AOTY list until mid-to-late December, and albums like Hailey, It Happens are Exhibit A for why that is. Not only was this record—the fourth official release and second full-length from Boston-based electropop duo Hailey, It Happens—a December 2nd release, but it’s also the kind of album that wouldn’t have sounded quite right until this particular time of year. On Hailey, It Happens, the band’s sound is driven by icy synths, yearning vocals, and wistful hooks built to come alive on the coldest nights of the year.
A man lives alone in the woods with his cat, attempting to use alchemy to summon the devil and create riches for himself. Plotwise, that’s about all there is to Joel Potrykus’ The Alchemist Cookbook, a film that I find hard to organize thoughts on. Much of what I like about it lies just beyond the grasp of my ability to verbalize, possibly because what I enjoyed so much in the film doesn’t quite feel concrete, and might more come from the feeling the film captures. This is a film with an aura, and for a film that deals so much with the implied, or presences more felt than seen, the balance is an accomplishment for Potrykus.