Against Me! ‘White Crosses” Review

9/10I loved Against Me! ever since I saw From Her Lips to God’s Ears pop up as track three on a 2005 Warped Tour compilation I bought for $5 and later found being given away for free towards the end of that dreadful festival. This is how I was exposed to a lot of bands- listening to these random comps and writing down the bands I really enjoyed. When Against Me! dropped New Wave in 2007, the world embraced the punk rock masters alongside me. And an evening bonfire had a whole crowd singing along to just about every classic song from the group’s first three albums, and a guy strummed along through every punk rock anthem with shocking honesty. This is one of my favorite moments of all time. An enchanting evening of music, with fans, sharing and soaking in the music they love. This is why Against Me is one of my favorite bands of all time.

But when 2010 came along, Against Me! was getting frequent radio play and they initially seemed to sell out their soul for a slot alongside radio rock brethrens. The lead single, I Was a Teenage Anarchist, seemed puzzlingly lame. It lacked edge, style, and a personality. I initially wrote the album off as just another example of a once great band selling their sound to the cookie-cutter rock formula. Not that it was bad, but it was the worst kind of music- it was harmless.

And then frontman Tom Gabel came out as transgender and renamed herself Laura Jane Grace. I was astonished. Suddenly, so much became clear. I admired the balls that Laura had to do such a thing, no pun intended. And I recalled moments of total clarity- the moment where Tom chanted ‘my mother would have named me Laura in New Wave’s The Ocean, or when he recalled dressing up in woman’s clothes on the title track to Searching for a Former Clarity.

I saw Tom Gabel as a solo act inSt. Augustine and copped his solo album. Then I saw Against Me! just two weeks after Laura came out as transgender. It was a borderline holy experience. A crowd of 200 people screaming and chanting along to every battle cry- every protest song- ever emblematic cheer, and hell, even the new stuff resonated.

There are moments of sheer brilliance on White Crosses, and I quickly realized how unfair I was to the whole release, largely because I was so unduly unimpressed with the lead single. Because of the Shame may lead with a hockey little piano lead, but it resonates well in this later Against Me incarnation. We’re Breaking Up is brilliantly composed. It has that nice production flair and clean sheen, but it has a killer hook. Spanish Moss is a strong album cut that recalls the chanting excitement of typical punk rock anthems, and the instrumentation bobs along at a brisk pace.

My favorite track on the album is Bamboo Bones. Lyrically, it is such a tour-de-force, and the musicianship is countered with some superb composition and a phenomenal chorus. I specifically remember blasting this song loud and screaming to every line. It had this triumphant rebellious feel, and I am ashamed that I initially missed this stellar piece of work. The lyric What God doesn’t give to you, you have to go and get for yourself recalls something about the reality of Grace that is admirable, enlightening, and absolutely wonderful.

The album’s lead track, White Crosses, is eerily familiar. I worked in St. Augustine for years as a pizza driver, and I know the white crosses Laura was speaking of. They were at a church on San Marco, the main artery that runs through downtown St. Augustine. I found myself driving past this church three times a day. Each white cross on the lot represented, I believe, 1,000 abortions that occurred a year. The lot was covered in them. I remember blasting White Crosses and waiting at a traffic, light, Laura screaming in my ear and my eyes scanning a personification of the horror and confusion of the world.

Ultimately, they were all removed after a string of vandalism. The final push was after about 30 were destroyed and smashed. Something tells me that it was Laura ( a St. Augustine resident, mind you) out there on the church lot that night. It was just a year or so before she came out to the public, and she was battling the demons of self-doubt, internal reflection, hopelessness, anger, and failure. When the signs were destroyed, Laura was reinvented in the most beautiful kind of way.

Tenacious D “Rize of the Fenix” Review

5/10It really surprises me that Tenacious D is still a “thing.” For one, their last greatest achievement was with their 2001 self-titled album, which deliberately created egotistical rock power ballads and acoustic ditties, mixed among some hysterical back-crunching dialogue that was both brilliantly composed and written and oddly offensive. Yet since that record, they have dabbled in mediocrity, watered down riffs, and borderline self parody. The Pick of Destiny was just an example of poorly implemented ideas and straightforward bad music. Tenacious D really should have gone the root of Spinal Tap- short lived, focused, and never overstays its welcome. Tenacious D do take a quite a long break between that last foray into comedy and this latest album, “Rise of the Fenix.”

Tenacious D really do one thing well, and that is mocking the music industry comedic tropes while delivering quality songwriting hooks. Overall, they BARELY do this well, at least in the past few years, but they definitely keep the music at the forefront this time around. The Pick of Destiny failed miserably as an album/movie/thing because Jack Black and Kyle Gass placed comedy over the actual music. “Rise of the Fenix” succeeds because the musical is the centerpiece holding the comedy together, as opposed to it being the other way around. They scatter some typical Tenacious D comedy skits amongst solid songwriting, as seen with the skitClassical Teacher which holds up to older bits from their oldest material and tv show. It’s just odd- but it works. Another straight comedy song, To Be the Best is a perfect representation of those awful power “YOU CAN DO IT!” synth songs that drugged the 80′s and forever tarnished it as a credible musical era.

Musically, the title track Rise of the Fenix shines as a self-aware ode to their history and to their legacy as a group. Roadie sounds like Tribute, their 2001 centerpiece song about the devil, and stands as one of the best here with a beautiful little string arrangement and acoustic. The Ballad of Hollywood Jack and the Rage Cage is the best song they have written in years, because it’s not only tenderly funny and well written musically, but it’s SMART. But some fall flat. Deth Star is lightning fast and tinged with Glass’ guitar melodies, but is coated with Black’s lyrics which barely classify as funny, let alone appealing.

Vocally, Black sounds as good as ever, for whatever that’s worth (Let’s face it, acquired taste is being tame). Lyrically, the album isn’t a great step forward. This IS Tenacious D, so expect massive egos, cock jokes, and weird placements of the word “chode.”

When Tenacious D swing, they often miss terribly and knock out a twelve year old to the left of the base plate. Yet when they hit, and they DO hit, they hit the ball for outside the park and prove their status at the top of the comedy music arch. Rise of the Fenix has brief hints of pure pop/rock perfection, sat uncomfortably between driveling songs that never quite stick (Senorita and Throw Down to name just two). I find Tenacious D improved dramatically here from their previous efforts, but the D is really only successful in sporadic bursts, and even over 40 minutes their just tiresome as hell.

Indie Spotlight: Justin Levinson

Justin Levinson isn’t particularly a household name, but with his electric mix of hearth throbbing-infused aesthetics and country-tinged balladry, he would be right at home in a climate of top 40 melodic guitar rock. Justin Levinson is a few albums deep, and has just recently released his new record, This Side of Me, This Side of You, alongside his backing group, The Valcours.

The album features ten new tracks that range from soulful and pretty to downright pop melodramatics. His lyrics tackle topics such as love, heartbreak, and finding happiness through trials and hardships and all that otherwise sappy cliches that somehow seem clearly sincere and remarkable through Levinson’s soothing and varied voice.

The greatest strength here with Levinson is clearly the instrumentation, which seethes with an honesty that is missing from typical top 40 flair. John Mayer’s recent output could have a thing to learn. He never overextends a song into senseless melodrama, always keeping it restrained yet comfortable in its own skin, a sincerity that is very much needed in a musical climate that focuses strongly on manufactured ideals.

“Love You Goodbye” is heartwarming and though lyrically idealistic, it is a perfect representation of Levinson’s sound, hesitant naivety of a man whose aspirations are wide and open and drowning in adoration, yet tinged with a mild recklessness and jadedness that really plays the song well.

For those deeply seeking a singer-songwriter style that places pop hooks as a focus, and refines that with a calming voice and approachable lyrics, Justin Levinson and the Valcours is the right place to be. Some like their music fun and naive, and some like it with a nice heaping spoonful of introspection. Levinson’s music fits right in place with sharing ice cream with a pretty girl on a Friday night.

AFI “Answer That and Stay Fashionable” Review

8/10Very few bands make the conscious effort to move so far from their origins. Bands and artists have done it before, but it has taken decades. In contemporary music, it just isn’t something that happens at the frequency that would be wholly interesting. The sure intrigue that would occur if the Red Hot Chili Peppers were to release a metal album, or if Marilyn Manson would release a strongly influenced electro-goth record. Man, despite what there is to like about those bands (and I pick on them for pure example) it sure would be…well...refreshing.

AFI are a band to look out for based on this merit alone. Background- AFI came from the Northern California punk rock scene. They ran the circuits, and released a few albums with powerful punk rock ethos and built a steady loyal audience. After some time, they got more gothic- more melodic- and then the major labels rolled along, gobbled them up, hired Butch Vig, and 2003 gave us Sing the Sorrow, a screamless sometimes instrumental and totally punkless one hour of moody atmospherics and post-hardcore rock and roll. Sing the Sorrow is a great album, but what was immediately invisible was the punk rock fury. It was a powerful album, but for very different reasons.

AFI debuted on the scene with Answer That and Stay Fashionable– a 30 minute blast of mayhem, accentuated by Davey Havok’s yelling vocals and the ADD-infected drumwork of Adam Carson who is unrelenting. Few songs reach 3 minutes (double check- none do) and most hover around these 1:30 blasts of speedy distempered instrumentation, which Havok in the driver’s seat, reeling the band between incoming traffic and through the wild frenzy of the world.

Where the group have moved past Reservoir Dogs and maybe into late-night sessions of romantic-dramas, they gave punk the gift of their early releases. Consider it homage. The Mother in Me seems like a faster-paced Black Flag track, and Half-Empty Bottlecould have came from a number of really good and largely unknown punk bands from the same era, but it would have lacked AFI’s signature touch (most notably, Havok’s appreciable voice). The Checkered Demon shows again their ability to craft a chant-worthy mini-chorus, a compacted little structure in under 2 minutes.

Answer That and Stay Fashionable isn’t particularly different than the next 2-3 albums from the band musically, but it is the beginning of a career that evolves and pyramids throughout its history. This is by no means a quality comparison but let’s for the sake for understanding, bring in the punk legends The Ramones. For all their influence and brevity, The Ramones always remained rather singular in their musical output. AFI has thrown this ideological punk rock belief to the fire. Are they sellouts? Maybe. Are they still good? Who knows. But there was a period of time where AFI did punk rock better than actual fully-fledged punk rock bands. This is not to devalue the accomplishments of punk legends, but let’s not forget that though AFI aren’t the best punk rock band by any means, they surely knew their way around the formula, and instead of expanding it, they just went ahead and broke the entire damn thing.

Silverstein “This is How the Wind Shifts” Review

cooltext131529618670615Silverstein’s galloping career has found them further solidifying the claim that they are, almost universally, the best post-hardcore group still active. As the band dives past their sixth LP This is How the Wind Shifts, fans and bystanders alike see a path of corpses, bands in the genre who have not made it through. This album acts as a sort of coda to those deceased groups who came from the same skin as Silverstein (I can name 10 within seconds) as well as a capstone to a wonderfully exciting career as the paramount hardcore group.

Silverstein began like any other now perished peer, debuting with an interesting albeit prototypical album of warm hooks, simplistic break-downs, and whiny emo-core vocals. Yet time passed, and each album found Silverstein maturing in all the right ways, exploring new arenas while staying loyal to what makes the band who they are, and maintaining a strong semblance of creativity and originality despite the easy cries against them and their respective genre. The reason I consider Wind… a capstone release and a coda is the fact that it seems to sum up the best of the genre while moving it forward in all the right places into a brand new era. Emo and hardcore is dead, but one way or another, Silverstein rose from the ashes in all its cliché glory.

The album also collects a lot of the group’s storytelling tendencies, progressing their creativity into what is clearly their best concept release. The album plays a dual dynamic. Each song from the first seven tracks features a complimentary track from the second half (If you follow the song titles, they act as the first and then second half of a phrase). Conceptually, the album is a pure treat, signaling the idea of ‘taking the other path in life.’ One direction, or the other?

Front man Shane Todd crafts his best vocal performance to date, a far cry from the group’s early music where Todd was considered a bit weak as a whole. It took a few releases, but this album (alongside the last one) stamps Todd as not just a competent vocalist, but an intriguing one.

Despite all the proclamations, the album is a bit singular musically. The instrumentation is tight, never meandering into unnecessary passages that don’t belong. Yet despite all this, the album is rather safe, playing the concept card heavily yet not fully complimenting that with truly ambitious tracks. I hate the phrase ‘more of the same,’ but here Silverstein are content doing what they do best with just a smidgen of freshness.

Hide Your Secrets is a huge track and a clear album highlight. Opener Stand Amid the Roar is a powerhouse metallic track of guitar fury and infectious lead hooks. Fortunately, the album’s conceptual structure really allowed for Silverstein to focus on keeping the energy throughout the album. Side 2 is equally strong as the first side. Unfortunately, the album’s overall sameness makes the whole thing blend a bit. It’s also rather short, just over a half hour.

The overall consensus we are dealing with here is that Silverstein are top-tier imaginers, crafting a riveting concept deserving of exploration from the listener. But Silverstein are who they are, and though they move their conceptual creativity forward, instrumentally, the band doesn’t do all that much different. They are clearly veterans of the sound where others have perished beside them. This represents post-hardcore, and its conclusion, but it doesn’t quite represents Silverstein- and their future.

The Offspring “Days Go By” Review

8/10Every music fan has that band they adored when they were young; puberty was just around the next turn or already amidst your daily troubles. You were easily influenced, grabbing for something to attach to. For me, these days involved Limp Bizkit, Eminem, System of a Down ‘Toxicity’ era, bouts of Donkey Kong on the Game Boy Color, and maybe a little surface punk rock. Among all this was a small Californian group called “The Offspring. Their slew of albums remained in constant rotation in my room. The opening spoken word piece of “Smash.” The 9-minute closer of “Americana” in ‘Pay the Man.’ Hell, even the times I stood on top of my bed rocking out to “Beheaded” from their debut self-titled.  I can’t listen to any of their older albums without recalling Pokemon, homework, and those bygone eras of a kid (me) who didn’t know shit about anything except every word of ‘the Offspring’s Americana album. I think we all have this band.

A new record from The Offspring post-2002 isn’t really a huge deal, on a wide social scale. Their recent output has been less than stellar, to say the least. 2003′s Splinter was fun but short and unremarkable. And then 2008 saw Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace, which was just a mixed pot of mediocre attempts to warm to an older sound and cheesy pop ballads that caused nausea. I don’t want to remember Kristy, Are You Doing OK? anytime soon and hopefully this will be the last mention of that song ever in history.

So I am in a precarious place. I can’t pretend I don’t have a self-sustained history with the group. Their albums, to me, are legendary.  I see a new album by a nostalgic-infused band from my youth, and I just have that sinking feeling that they will just disappoint again. But I feel guilty. They ALREADY gave me so much?

Days Go By is much much better than I would have thought hearing a few songs leading up to the release. Lead single and title track Days Go By is by-the-books alt-rock, sounding more like a buried track 8 Foo Fighters song than old school California punk rock. The second single, Cruisin California (Bumpin in my Truck) is just ridiculously awful. You get the slight impression that the Offspring are parodying top 40 pop music, yet the song is so out of touch and obnoxiously foolish they only really end up parodying themselves.

Yet, listening through the album, my heart fluttered. It rose. My intertwined nostalgic attachments to The Offspring felt, well, satisfied. Lead track The Future is Now opens the album up well, sounding similar to The Offspring in the late-90′s. They retain some classic punk-rock aesthetics here with Dividing By Zero, a short blast of punk rock ethos towards the end of the album. Sounds a bit like All I Want, which is pure punk- if it was on the radio, of course.

Their is a cheesy ballad here (oh gawd) in the form of All I Have Left is You. It’s silly and dumb, but actually quite harmless and boasts a steady little harmony and hook that actually sticks as opposed to infuriates. For modern day attempts to reach radio appeal, there could be much worse.

Perhaps the most interesting inclusion is a song called Dirty Magic. For long-time Offspring fans, and those who heard their old material, it is a re-release and re-recording of the track from their second album Ignition. This time around, it’s heavier and cleaner, and uses this odd guitar tone. I can’t possibly listen to it without hearing the song I’ve grown accustomed to, and it sets a potentially dangerous precedent of bands re-recording songs and releasing them on a new album. The problem I have with Dirty Magic is that it didn’t need to exist in this new form.

Oc Guns is actually  a really bizarre little song that uses this old school hip-hop esque drum pattern and bass line, and classical instrumentation, making for one of the most dynamic and interesting songs from the band in the last decade.

All in all, Days Go By is their best album in 12 years. It offers a dash of experimentation, a dash of balladry like their recent output, and brief inclusions of punk rock songs that would fit in comfortably mid-career. Everyone who is into music has that band or artist that they just attached to in youth. For me, that is The Offspring. Now when those artists go decades into their career, and still release music, you tend to just look at it unfavorably. With that nostalgia self-contained in their older material, it is also a bit fresh to hear a band from youth still moving forward and retaining a semblance of what made you love them in the first place. From The Offspring, and any band that is in this position for someone, that is really the best you can expect. On comparison’s sake, the new music will almost always lose. But as you remove yourself from that logic and train of thought, you find something charming and likable here, even if you aren’t twelve and recalling the best of a band’s heyday.

Rise Against “Endgame” Review

5/10Rise Against have gone through an interesting transformation since their inception in 1999, beginning as a band holding punk rock ethos tight and belting out political upheavals in the name of rock and roll. Being independent had its perks. Things like credibility, soul, and a following from the pits of punk rock standings. And now that they have blossomed into full-bloom mainstream acts, the sound is polished, tighter, and to the fans of many who have seen this happen before- a weaker band.

This should not devalue Rise Against rise to prominence. It took some time, but with The Sufferer and the Witness in 2006, Appeal to Reason in 2008, and now, Endgame, the sound is far removed from those early days where their political belching fell to a small audience. But now, with a massive following, they have the fan base to speak to and the people who will listen en masse. This may have something to do with how politically driven this new record is. Now that they are famous, they have more of an obligation to speak about the anxieties of our political culture- again.

For being so political, it’s still fantastic to hear a band hold pop hooks and tight instrumentation so dear. Lead single “Help Is on the Way” still warrants all that chant-worthy charm from older songs, and the riffs are still intact. “Survivor Guilt” being one of the strongest tracks on the record, having a spoken word portion only adding to the motivations of the band to promote ideas beyond the music in the listener.

As well, all the songs within a solid 3-4 minutes, none too short that they fail to stick and none too long they become overly indulgent preachings. The album also lacks a cohesive straight ballad such as Hero of War from their last album. Midnight Hands comes close, with a chorus that is slower but also booming in its resonance. Rise Against also never fails to come up with a nice slew of OOOHHH OOHHH OHHHH chants that make the whole message seem all the more appropriate.

For what we hear on the radio from many generic cookie-cutter rock bands, Rise Against is ALMOST a breath of fresh air. They are not hesitant to admit that they are motivated by the cultural implications of the political side of things, and their agenda is more than writing a high quality rock hook and making kids bang their heads at live shows. But the album itself doesn’t reinvent the wheel, or bring across an energy and lyrical prowess not seen before from the band- and perhaps done better.

Rise Against isn’t metal. And they aren’t punk. And their not even radio rock cookie cutter bullshit. But they do follow the formulaic Rise Against sound explored in their previous two albums, and for all their political suggestions, from the lyrics to the album cover, there still is a feeling of monotony that plagues the band’s latest album.

I’m not expecting a revolution- just give me some new tricks up the sleeve

Dredg “Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy” Review

6/10There are always bands that seem to be destined to exist on the fringe of  mainstream success and massive popularity. It may be awkward marketing, it may be luck, or it may be a lack of momentum and the band/artist was just ONE more really well-received release from being pushed over the edge. When a band such as dredg began their career with a borderline hardcore experimental sound in 1996, and have, over the past 15 years, toned the sound down to a hook-infested sensibility with catchy whimsical riffs and bombastic pop energy, it seems to be a cry for attention from the popular scope of music. And yet, dredg seem to lie under the radar despite their efforts. 2002 saw the release of “El Cielo,” an artsy escapade of sweeping rhythms and soaring vocals from frontman Gavin Hayes. And 2005 saw Catch Without Arms released, an obviously conscious effort to appease a wider crowd and dial their specific style to a more approachable wavelength. And of course, 2009 came dredg’s closest attempt at a streamlined sound, and warranted a relatively popular single for an indie band, and was largely concieved their worst album- for that specific reason.

The only reason I bring each of their previous albums up is because of the maturity but also deliberate efforts to move forward and make…well…catchier music. Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy is right in toe with the trends, an album that is harmless and likable as it is dulled to the senses in making an album deserving of radio play and widespread appeal.

To get this out of the way immediately, the album title is horrendously bad. Just an awful title that is so off-putting and frankly, embarrassing, I’m confused as to why it is titled so. Even a delving into the lyrics, albeit brief, fails to garner some sort of logic and reasoning to the title. That’s okay. This is about the music inside, not the presentation. Who judges a book by its cover nowadays  anyways?

Well, frankly, everyone does. But if you can escape a pre-concieved notion of this being an album for 5 year olds at a puppet festival, it’s actually quite creepy. (And hence the album cover)

You really have to base the album solely on its instrumentation, which is interesting for dredg, who have always gave a purpose to their albums. But with that said, there are some well-implemented electronics scattered about. Somebody is Laughing is a relatively strong track, and Upon Returning has this fantastic little riff that drives the song through the catchiest chorus on the record.

Gavin Hayes vocals have always been a notable inclusion to the sound of the band, and shine throughout. Even weaker songs are slightly less so based solely on Hayes vocal output.

But for every spark of high quality, we have a piece of music that is concerning. it really makes me question what dredg were going for exactly. Down Without a Fight will catch any fan off guard, using an electronic almost danceable backbeat. But it’s so poorly done and jarring, I find it just a disaster and makes the entire song soulless. Another weak track is The Tent, with a chorus that drags and drags. The song is just so slow in a brooding heavy way it is actually quite exhausting to listen to.

The Thought of Losing You is just a sugary little song that goes right out the mind once it passes. and Kalathat is an acoustic ballad that lacks the charm and class of the best of its kind.

I adore the throwback to an older release of theirs, with The Ornament lifting a melody and lyrics straight from an older song. It may appear as lazy, but fans will appreciate the nod to one of their more well-received albums so many years ago. Ironically, its fusion with an older song, and the new elements, make it the most organic and beautiful song on the album.

This is dredg’s shortest album- by a lot. Considering that their shortest album previously was 50 minutes, it is worth noting. But my biggest issue is the lack of cohesiveness. Every other album by dredg, had a purpose. There was either a story to tell that was intriguing, or an overall idea and stylistic center that kept the different styles and sounds tied together towards one all-encompassing goal. Their 2002 album El Cielo did this with beauty, striving for Indian influences and metal influences, and yet keeping them gathered under an umbrella of a single concept- dreams. Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy is all over the place. it’s not positive and uplifting, but it’s not really brooding and sinister. The music has no tie to a big picture that is easy to realize.

dredg usually take quite a while to release an album. knowing there is only a two year gap between this album and their last is alarming. I love hearing more music from a great band, but at what cost? Will they release an album with no grounding, filled with inferior tracks and nurtured guitar licks? Dredg have shown a lot of quality in their past, but their strive for mainstream success and watered down sounds only leads to alienation and disappointment. The tracks are here. But where’s the soul?

D.R.U.G.S “s/t” Review

5/10There are a lot of people awaiting some new music fromCraig Owens, who’s split from Chiodos a little over a year ago polarized fans, many believing the band would fail to continue and succeed without their ace vocalist. But Chiodos went on to make a new album with a new singer, Brandon Bolmer, and Craig got a hold of Matt Gold of From First toLast fame, and Nick Martin, friend from side project Isles and Glaciers. They went ahead and put together D.R.U.G.S. and a self-titled album. All’s well that ends well.

Sort of. D.R.U.G.S, which stands for Destroy Rebuild Until God Shows, put together a reasonable and harmless collection of post-hardcore cliches, blessed by Craig’s vocal prowess and some pop hooks not seen since…well, Bone Palace Ballet. it’s not that this album is poor, as the hardcore genre was never one to drastically reinvent the wheel. We have suitably titled songs (“Mr. Owl Ate My Metal Worm” and “Stop Reading, Start Doing Pushups” to name a few) and an irregularly jarring lack of focus on strong guitar lines. We have no guitar solos (no surprise) and a cohesive lack of weaving guitar parts that were prominent in early Chiodos records and even From First to Last’s material. The band absolutely relies on Craig’s vocal ability, witnessed most notably in songs like “Sex Life,”  and “The Only Thing You Talk About.” Their latter is a sort of sweeping hook-friendly piece that is as pop-friendly as it is heavy.

I am not quite sure what D.R.U.G.S. are trying to accomplish here. They have a strong vocalist with quite a formidable fanbase willing to follow him into any new project, and of course the talents of the band to craft a nice little mix of pop allure and moderately heavy breakdowns (for a band in this genre, anyways). But even with the members involved, the album comes out a bit stale, tired, a steadfast record that will appease the fans of Chiodos who find them essentially dead, and the kids who dig the sensibilities of modern post-hardcore. But for most, this won’t break ground. For a man who is in 3-4 simultaneous bands or music projects, it’s interesting to see this one so transparent. The booming chorus’ are there. The shattering vocal lines are there, sparingly, and the goofy titles and lyrical innuendos are well intact, but the record comes out with a big “Big Deal.” it’s a solid record that’s catchy enough to stick long enough, but don’t expect it to hit for some everlasting classic appeal.

And we shouldn’t expect it too. I am happy to inform fans that this album is worth a listen, a nice introduction to a new Craig, the master of side projects, who is bound to use this to begin a new musical endeavor. In the meantime, D.R.U.G.S. will have to do.

Sum 41 “Screaming Bloody Murder” Review

5/10It’s surprising to me to find Sum 41 still apparently making music. Their recent career (ignoring drunken public appearance and artistic finagling) teetered on quality pop-punk and that band you liked in middle school. Maybe a little of both.

There are very few bands who can earn critical acclaim and still be nostalgically centered. The truth is, what we liked in middle school and High School has a certain little charm, but may not be…well…good (See Limp Bizkit, Korn, or System of a Down to get an idea of what I mean).

The below picture is funny. Maybe too funny? Well, that’s exactly what Sum 41 thought when they released this new album absolutely devoid of any humor, which was a staple with their debut album Half Hour of Power which was essentially an homage to power metal, and All Killer No Filler featuring arguably their most famous song,Fat Lip.

But people grow up. They get older. They get less funny. bands of this genre particularly seem to make a conscious effort to mature or be cast into the mold of rebellious pop-punk- and become a one-trick pony.

Regardless, Screaming Bloody Murder is exactly what I expected. This isn’t particularly a bad thing.I expected elements of metal as seen in their record Chuck from 2004. That appears quite clear in songs like Happiness Machine and the title track, Screaming Bloody Murder. I also expected a pop lean, with a focus on melody and typical pop construct similar to Underclass Hero.   This album is a nice little mix of those, and is absolutely superior to anything they have put out since 2004.

Unfortunately, Sum 41 are dangerously close to being a middle school band, despite many considering them that already. Unlike contemporaries, they really can write a tune. Skumfuck is just a blast to listen to as isHoly Images of Lies. I feel like front man Deryck Whibley has something to say here, but the lyrics are bland and too uninteresting for me to decipher the message. Guess it goes with the genre.

The album is, as disgustingly cliche as it to say, more mature. Coming off a four-year musical break and some line-up changes, Sum 41 have reevaluated what they need to do to stay relevant. Sick of Everyone is a heavy tune, and carries a weight not seen since Chuck’s 88 so many years ago. And they do attempt a few different styles and experimentation, switching from some sort of sing-songy portion, and then picking it up later in the song with a near breakdown. It’s less jarring than one might think. The album isn’t completely void of a sappy ballad- congratulations Crash, you win for being the over-indulgent power ballad of the bunch. These type of songs CAN be done right. This one was not.

Sum 41 do know how to properly close a record, as Back Where I Belong is not only one of the heaviest but most appealing tracks on the record, and put to a closure that was well needed. The album does go on to include a 2 minute acoustic track with odd distorted vocals, and I’m not quite sure what it’s doing there.

This album does have a few highlights. It also has some shit. I’m afraid for those of you who still listen to full albums, you’ll be a doing a bit of skipping around. But Screaming Bloody Murder does have some quality tracks, and though it’s not Sum 41 taking massive steps forward, they do hold tight at what they do best. They add nice elements of experimentation, tone down the comedy, and deliver an awkwardly serious but entirely tolerable album that may be forgotten in a few years- but still keeps the interest long enough to say ‘Hey I remember Sum 41…their kind of cool.”

Copeland “Eat. Sleep. Repeat’ Review

9/10There is a haunting contemplative wonder in all of Copeland‘s music, dating back to their rough around the edges debut, to the stunning masterpiece You Are My Sunshine they released in 2008. Eat, Sleep, Repeat is a middle ground between Copeland’s indie softness and somber reflections to their sweeping grand statements of beautiful aplomb.

The album also has a lot of different sounds attempted in its 45 minutes. I’m Safer on an Airplane is a retrospective of quiet forethought; a single keyboard propels the song with Copeland’s knack for soft-mannered texture. Love Affair is a stunningly pretty ballad, a gorgeous reflective melody made vastly superior because of its lyrical content that is dense without being alienating. the band even attempts further atmosphere with a saxophone rendition and laid-back lounge style arrangement.

There is an off-rhythm aspect of Copeland’s music in general, and you can hear it play along on Eat, Sleep, Repeat. It is often in the percussion itself, such as the title track from the album. Listen to Careful Now with a careful ear, and you will pick up on the idiosyncratic drumwork that has become a leading attribute to their material (and one that take to grand new heights on 2008′s You Are My Sunshine).

Of course, Copeland is a group of accomplished musicians, and they provide some rather down to Earth compositions, such as the accessible pop landmark Control Freak. The song is probably the most immediately engaging on the release, with a quaint aptitude and clarity that is captivating to a listener. The song erupts towards the end with subtle strings and some astonishing work on the guitar. Copeland is one of those groups where the frontman, Aaron Marsh, does not overwhelm the band or take anything away from them. it is the instrumentation on a technical level that entrances way. But it is the way Copeland takes inherently complex song dynamics and styles in a very gloriously elegant way.

Copeland makes beautiful music for people with an ear for that sort of thing. Their penchant for sense and sensibility is present in every orifice of their sound. They have a knack for atmosphere and texture, and this is not just name dropped jargon. The songs propel forward with their ‘main’ construction, and then are accented along the way with various noises and subtler nuances that bring a liveliness to the material. All music is art- sort of. But you have to see the members of Copeland as legitimate artists, a daring display of musical virtuosity not often seen in modern alternative band’s repertoire.

Avenged Sevenfold “Hail to the King” Review

3/10Why do I punish myself? Why do I think that just as mock-gothic-metal-hybrid album from Avenged Sevenfold pops up again, I think that just maybe they will strike gold and do something competent? Well, it has happened, like, once. Their self-titled, self-produced and whimsically indulgent, was actually a record that held back the post-hardcore ramblings for something a little deeper. For one reason or the other, I got an itch to talk a little about the group’s latest almost catastrophic mess, Hail to the King. For whatever it is worth, this thing is actually a bit better than their last album Nightmare which was quite a nightmare to listen to. It was not one of those situations where I thought ‘How could they have gone so far off?” but one of distress: why are they still doing this and why are people listening?’

You can defend Avenged Sevenfold all day long, but nothing changes the fact that their pop-metal blend is uninspiring and bland. It must be said up front. Deceased drummer The Rev was indeed quite a competent and unique drummer, and his replacement for this release, Arin ILejay, has a hard time matching up. But the drumming is not a major issue, or even a minor one. Because everything is so uninteresting and trivial, the drumming is just one of those little things that seem irrelevant in the big picture. When the solos are as mind-fumblingly unnerving and the vocals of Mr. M Shadows so unpleasant, you never get time to even get to the drums for any sort of critical reviewing.

I think the greatest issue with Hail to the King is that the hocky horror-metal elements are just comical. Iron Maiden implemented amazing visuals to their repertoire, and seemed to do it so much more genuinely. Honestly, Avenged Sevenfold have always seemed to follow the sensibilities of Iron Maiden in many ways. But it comes down to this: Iron Maiden can right great songs and Avenged Sevenfold can’t. When you have bad songwriting, it is amazing how less genuine, inspired, and interesting EVERYTHING becomes. Who gives a damn about the lyrics when the rhythms are so appalling? Can M Shadows sound good over loathsome poppy

This is the curse of Avenged Sevenfold. Give me a reason to care, by making interesting music. The title track here runs on a recycled riff from the drecks of the pop-metal bargain bin. This Means War is another fucking power ballad with enough double bass beatings to pop an eardrum. Heretic is actually quite intriguing, because it manages an actual likable hook. Image that on a pop-metal album!

On a final song note, I actually enjoyed Coming Home quite a bit. Unfortunately, it has already been written about 17 times. It is a glorified cover.

This album reminds me a bit of the pairing of Load and Reload from Metallica.  It is a band trying to create just cool and fun hard rock. But their utter lack of coolness and utterly restrained songwriting ability makes the songs no more appealing then as very very surface level metal for thirteen year olds.

Foster the People “Torches” Review

8/10It is so easy to make fun of a band because everyone else is. Hell, I do it with Nickelback. And really, when it comes right down to it, what is the big difference between Foster the People and Nickelback?

It is quality songwriting, but let’s not go crazy here. People make fun of Foster the People because, quite honestly, there was no logical reason for Pumped Up Kicks to become the 2011 smash hit that it was. I have heard bands with 35 last.fm followers and a Facebook fan page with less views than my grandmother’s, but they wrote songs with big friendly approachable endearing cute hooks. Pumped Up Kicks is that in just about every way. But why them? What an unfair world we live in where Foster the People hits it out of the park with a derivative trivialized pop song, where all those other bands sulk in obscurity and quick death.

The group’s debut studio album, Torches, is infectious and instantly repeatable. No song is not digestible and heartwarming in some way. Don’t Stop features an amorphic little whistle chant that lights the song up.Houdini breaks open with this absolutely loving lead melody and bombastic drum beat. My personal favorite track on the album is Warrant, which will go overlooked by the masses. But its repetitious drum pattern (agreeably overused by this point) is overshadowed by what is one of the most endearing hooks on the record, and an adorably irresistible lead melody.

People get incredibly worked up over mundane aspects of our reality. They miss the point- crap will never ever ever go to its rightful birthplace. You know why classic stories stand the test of time? It is not because classic are fundamentally better than anything we are doing now (those who say music turned to crap are the worst of the lot). It is because we have gone through that removal process, the fact that time crushes what is irrelevant and the culturally significant rises to the top. We have gone through that sifting process, and that chart-topping single that you despise right now has not gone through that same process.

Will Torches be relevant in the coming years? I highly doubt it. In the meantime, we embrace infectious lovable dance/pop/indie/rock whatever with an approachable and bubblegum fervor. Maybe because we know it won’t last- maybe because we know it really isn’t important. But if Foster the People let’s me forget about what is important for even just a moment, I will let it into my heart to bounce and play along until the next thing comes up and I recycle it appropriately.

Indie Spotlight: Paper Ceilings

The great thing about music is that there was, and always will be (until the inevitable Apocalypse) something for everyone. It’s a cliché, sure. Even the nuttiest most eclectic arguably ridiculous taste in music can find comfort in the presence of experimental comedy jazz or violin metal. The likes of popular comedy rock can be summed up with “Tenacious D,” for the vast majority of people who find greater resonance with Three Days Grace and driveling rock radio post-poster-grunge that has the humorous touch of a cancer patient. Yet comedy music goes further than the vocal croonings of Jack Black. Paper Ceilings is the solo moniker of ‘Jesse.’ The mysterious Jesse litters Paper Ceilings tunes with pop culture references galore and an almost admirable self-awareness of what it takes to be a middling older teen who likes music.

Whether it is the surface enjoyment of J.D Salinger’s ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ or a string of contemporary pseudo folk-rock groups such as Against Me! And Gaslight Anthem, ‘Paper Ceilings’ drops relatable and smile-worthy odes to the climate of the times. Serious Song is just serious enough. The idea is one of gross simplicity- life is fun. Yet underneath the concept of the monkier, you have a condensed sampling of thoughts that seem to plague and simultaneously monitor young people’s lives. The thoughts of the future, such as starting a family, being unemployed, sticking to your guns, not being a failure, etc etc etc… The fact that people think you’re cool and collected, but you’re lost and discovering yourself, my personal favorite.

The songs themselves are harmless, drowning in Whoa whoa chorus’ and distinguishable lyrics about being, in essence, just a regular ass guy.

Lyrically of course, the album is rife with observant references. A Fugazi reunion, as referenced in Thunder Road, would be amazing. The Frank Turner namedrop is excellently crafted, and of course a brief nod to Neil Young is always more than welcome.

The ‘jokes’ aren’t really set-up-punchline styled. What we have in Paper Ceilings is a well crafted snarkiness. A wit that knows it’s limitations in the form of 1 and a half minute folk-pop songs, yet somehow has something to say amidst pop culture references and contemporary fusings on music. The self-titled album isn’t a laugh out loud rollick through comedy heaven, nor is it an introspective study of the American teenager. Yet, in some bizarre and alluring way, the songs seem to blend the idea of introspection with charming humor, for a collection of songs that are so simple yet so well done, they touch on all the perfect notes. “Good Enough” is the prime example- who says you are or aren’t good enough for something? And what that said, who cares- because in some ways- we all pretty much suck.

Life is Hopeless (And That’s Okay) is silly and short. But in the 45 seconds it takes to complete the song, you have a small punch in the gut. Fuck it, we’re just dumb people. Let’s play folk music and sing about fun stuff.

Paper Ceilings manages a quaint balance of life and fun, among acoustic ditties that remain equally charming and exciting in their own effortless way.

Indie Spotlight: One Hour Naps

There is something comfortably cozy about the group One Hour Naps. Well firstly, they are literally titled from the concept of taking a deserving sleep break in the middle of the day. Sonically, the band illuminates the room with a heartwarming and, well, cozy sound of pop-folk tropes and jangly acoustic ditties. You can hear a whole mess of diversity and brazen escapades in their working palette. Their full-length album, Encrypted Code, sounds like the title for a concept album about a computer glitch which must be, well, unencrypted, to stop it before it destroys the world. Yet ‘Encrypted Code’ is far less technological and far breezier than any computer code. Each song is seemingly coated in that autumn coloration that fills the sky. But unlike the autumn skyline, which stretches to the horizon on both sides of the sky, ‘Encrypted Code’ remains comfortable and focused in one small place- perhaps a single leaf fallen from a powerful and mighty evergreen tree. With such an autumn sound, you would expect the band to derive from the wild hills of the Rocky’s or Montana or… The group is from Chicago. Just like Kurt Vonnegut says when he hears something that shouldn’t make sense, but makes perfect sense once you think about it- so it goes.

The songs herein are all under the pop-single timeframe of 3 minutes, more akin to classic punk hardcore than upbeat indie pop. There is one exception. The song ‘Angelina’ stretches over 5 minutes and is alarmingly one of the most compassionate and endearing songs on the album.

Factory by the Sea offers flair and sensational Beatles-esque parading over 2 minutes, and remains positively addictive. Outer Space uses some slightly abrasive background effects, making for a weird unscratchable itch on the side of your brain. It isn’t necessarily the album’s greatest moment, but it sure is something. Michigan ends up the most country-ish song on the album. Lyrically, it’s about love. And musically, it is clearly more country that anything preceding or following, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Devil Be Damned is crunchier and louder, and remains one of the most interesting songs on the album.

Artists really only have a few options.

Option 1: Artists indulge, soak in their momentum and enthusiasm in favor of overdrawn and over-excised music that becomes overbearing in its own innate seriousness- and just ok at best.

Option 2: They contain all the eccentricity necessary to stand out on the end of the rope all alone. Perhaps writing a novel in all vowels. Perhaps standing next to the band who made their drummer excise his skills on trashcan lids and who hired a man dressed as a beaver to growl into the mic and perform upside down.

Option 3: Hold key influences in hand and craft something memorable but openly following a well-traveled course without having to overindulge. ‘One Hour Naps’ have seemingly ignored all the options and devised their own. They carved a new path, one that doesn’t rely on eccentric nonsense to stick out, and one that doesn’t overstay its welcome or take art too seriously- an option that doesn’t need to try too hard to welcome fans and “break” their sound. In many ways, ‘One Hour Naps’ really aren’t trying to write music at all. The songs come off so naturally and simplistically, sonically, you can either listen or not. They don’t care. Just try to stick around for 30 minutes and listen to the music, and see if you take life as serious as you did before. Maybe that’s the code.

Encrypted within is the code that life is about trying to not try, and making it all seem so fun and light in the process. Encrypted Code makes you smile, and not question why- or why it matters. That’s the best we can ever get, and in 2 minutes bursts equaling 30 minutes, that’s a lot more than you could get from a 30-minute catnap. ‘One Hour Naps’ aren’t asking for anything. They are just happy you stayed.

Thrice “Major/Minor” Review

8/10If Thrice is anything, they are ridiculously consistent and fantastically productive. A new Thrice album is an expected event, as if an odd-numbered year marks a new release of Thrice material. Which is fine, as they could likely be considered one of the most influential and pioneering acts in contemporary music. They are always trying something new (they released a quadruple album about the elements) always striving forward with their sound (their earliest material was post-hardcore, their last- half acoustic) and always having a message contained in their songs. I sound like a bias fan boy, but I can respect a band who moves forward while also holding true the best qualities of their music. All their albums can be considered a favorite among fans, all their albums push the envelope and are critically acclaimed. Their newest release is no exception.

Major/Minor is heavier than before, less introspective, and more about delivering quality rhythms and melodies while toning down the balladry and emotional impact. it’s not to say that Major/Minor is dull or that it has less resonance. it’s just that it’s…well, consistent.

Each song bleeds into the other and doesn’t quite stand on its own as well as many older Thrice records, where individuality was the name of the game. We have a sort of neutrality here, where ballads are minimal. The sound does harken back to a younger, more naive Thrice. Frontman Dustin Kensrue snarls where appropriate, but holds a rather tame and contained voice, never dipping into sappy melodrama or all-out ferociousness. His voice alone makes for a rather singularly-focused record.

Major/Minor is a little abrasive and lacks that clean production from other Thrice albums. But what it lacks in cleanliness it makes up for in an moderately aggressive and dirty production style. Promises delivers one of the best riff leads on the record, and Words in the Water harkens back to the Alchemy Index’s moody slow-paced pieces (without being an all out ballad).

Anthology has the strongest pop hook here, and will likely be seen as a fan favorite in the coming years. And Yellow Belly, the first track on the record, is most reminiscent of old-school Thrice with a strong lead riff and that typical sound from, arguably, The Artist in the Ambulance. Thrice also manages to close the album with Disarmed, a surprisingly eloquent piece, and one that made me wish, slightly, that the whole album was similar to it.

What I love about Thrice is the instrumentation, the complete control over their sound and the power of their strongest songs. Thrice has this scattered about over a collection of 11 influential albeit standard songs (let me be clear: the THRICE standard). Thrice have delivered an almost exceptional record, brought down by the relatively consistent sound throughout, and the lack of any phenomenal tracks. Where Thrice haven’t made a classic here, they sure have further proved their nature as a productive group, and drawing fans further into their honesty, integrity, and approachability.

The Black Keys “El Camino” Review

8/10The Black Keys seemingly appear to be riding the trend of swampy blues-rock that has been resuscitated in the last few years, but being as they released their debut record in 2002 and have released material almost every 12 months since then, I can’t discredit the group as be trendy over trend-setters. This doesn’t make the Black Keys new album, El Camino, a massive leap forward. As a matter of fact, it’s more like a quick stop at the bar, or an immediate shake-off of the thin layer of dust. When the Black Keys released Brothers just last year, they seemed to catapult to mainstream-flair. I can’t say it was undeserving, but it was a little peculiar.

The Black Keys are by no means doing anything revolutionary with their sound. The White Stripes have garnered a similar style since the 90′s, and Jack White has multiplied this style for his 2, 3, possibly 5 6 or 7 other different bands. But the Black Keys, quite simply, do the swamp-infested blues-rock riffage better than anyone in the genre. Mutemath gave this one a shot, and though it worked relatively okay, The Black Keys simply eclipse them in almost every facet with exceptional showmanship and astonishingly addictive licks. Lonely Boy’s ear worm  flair starts the record off so well, that it seemed impossible the band could keep the pace throughout. The thing is, they kind of do.

With a brisk 35 minutes, far shorter than their previous album, El Camino is quick and jabs you at the gut. It is sharper and more pop-centered, with its quicker pace and dirty riff-centered production. It cleans up the sound, making the record a bit tighter and the instrumentation more polished. This may turn off some fans, but this record will undoubtedly draw in more to their gritty though pop mechanics.

Run Right Back is catchy as shit. And though I could break down the specifics of what makes this song wildly memorable, you simply need to rock out and enjoy the very surface satisfaction received from this song. With that said, the album is better than Brothers. It is unique, but also the top of its class. You can respect an artist that makes a conscious effort to refine their material without subjecting themselves to the typical confines of selling out. Little Black Submarines showcases a slightly more melodic side of the group, though the blistering pace is only withheld for a brief moment. Dead and Gone allows the listener a quick breather, and remains a highlight on this record as well.

I do have a few issues with the package as a whole. For such a short record, it does become a little tiring after some time. In brief blistering waves, the band succeeds brilliantly. through the course of a whole album, the sound and style seems to show its wear and tear.

The frontman’s voice is exceptional for the style of the group, and knowing they are no more than a duo, you can come to respect the instrumentation that much more. The Black keys new album is perfect by installing the stylings of the group in a slightly sleeker and more refined package. The album bleeds into a 35-minute long well-chipped rock and roll session. With cookie-cutter music dropping left and right, you can come to appreciate a band that holds true to their strongest suits and crafts formidable pop-rock with that special tinge of quality showmanship and rocking status.

Nas “Life is Good” Album Review

cooltext131529618670615Life is good, huh? For a guy whose greatest output rests comfortably in the 90′s, whose recent contribution to pop culture was a messy divorce, a promiscuous daughter tweeting pics of condoms, and two poorly received solo LP’s, I find a hard time believing life is all THAT good. But then again, I ain’t Nas, and I never made Illmatic. But then again I never made Hip Hop is Dead, Untitled, or Nastradamus, and we all know about those messes.

But maybe Life IS just good. For Nas, there is a whole breadth of material at his disposal, and it has made for one of his best albums in just about 10 years. Not to say that Nas’ recent musical output is terrible (it sort of is though) but Life is Good is just really damn good.

There are certain tropes in a Nas album, some of them including the lack of thick basslines, streamlined beats, a smooth-talking seamless flow. All of these are heightened, made more tense, and perfectly personified in Life is Good.

Accident Murderers is aggressive and features some archetypal Nas-cliches pulled right out of the 90′s. Unfortunately, Rick Ross is featured and just ruins the second half. God forgives him, I don’t.

Nas always seems to add in one or two (or three or four) of those sex fantasy type songs. Here we have, well, one, kind of. Stay is soothing yet odd, but it does fit the flow and is forgivable.

Daughters is a fantastic song and is a Nas solo effort that really speaks directly to recent news breaks and insight into his pseudo anti mid-life crisis.Cherry Wine is a beautiful song that is arguably one of the best things featuring Amy Winehouse to come out since her passing. If this is her swan song, I applaud.

The Don is aggressive and features a deep bassline, a bit nontraditional Nas, yet relevates it to one of the most tense and well made songs on the album.

Yet there are a few unremarkable songs. The most notable is Summer on Smash which seems like an almost detestable grab for radio-play. It’s a messy song that is frustratingly terrible, and I would rather it be removed from my copy for the sole reason that it fits better on a Wacka Flacka Flame album (the second half) than Nas. Jesus.

This is about as best as we can expect from Nas in 2012. There are scattered gems throughout his entire output, and Life is Good surely continues that trend a bit more plentiful. But there are undeniably a few songs that don’t fully work, despite no singular aspect remaining at fault.

What Nas does best is offer an extremely tight and flawless flow, and despite cited whack lyrics and muddy beats, he does his job well. This album retains the best of what Nas can offer, while fulfilling some long sought wishes in refinement. The flow is there, as always. But with that comes the quality production, the apt and personal and sincere lyrics, and the thematic tie-in and just a really good album from a man whose musical output was clearly on its last legs for fans. And though one can’t expect an entire album of top-tier Nas (who did anyway?) there are more winners than losers and for that, it’s a sure win from Nas.

Jane’s Addiction “Nothing’s Shocking” Review

cooltext131529618670615What a way to go. When I first listened to Jane’s Addiction, I was eleven. I knew so little about the world, I am surprised my head didn’t explode the moment my fish died and I realized it was never coming back. I heard Jane Says on the radio, an acoustic little rendition of what seemed to sound like a classic country/folk song. My mother agreed and bought Nothing’s Shocking. To this day, I still find it odd that she thought it was a nice acoustic rock record despite having two naked girls on the cover with their hair on fire.

Regardless, Jane’s Addiction sounded as if from another planet. Up the Beach sounded evil- sinister- something booming from my twelve-inch boombox like from the pits of another planet. Had a Dad contained this eerie guitarwork and this raspy growl from frontman Perry Farrell that sounded otherworldly.

The one-two-three punch of that song preceded by Ocean Size and Up the Beach has always stuck in my mind. And though I now realize that Jane’s Addiction are quite tame in the whole scheme of things, these early memories of being chilled by music still stuck to me strong. So it is difficult to be put in a position of taking a critical look at an album that made such a strong impression on my past. It is like reviewing Child’s Play. It scared the shit out of me when I was nine, but it’s just a stupidly stupid movie.

I am not going to admit that Nothing’s Shocking, the group’s grand big middle-finger to the world, is stupid. It’s actually brilliant. I still believe it helped give 90′s grunge an in-road to mainstream success, and Jane’s Addiction are not respected enough by providing the outlet for Nirvana and Soundgarden to craft their careers.

Some songs hold up incredibly well. Take Ted…Just Admit It for example. It’s a druggie-infused spiral down the mind of a crazed psychotic. It’s also a blast to listen to. Idiots Rule has this big energy to it that sounds more like Sly and the Family Stone than anything grunge-like, and it always remained an intriguing spot to sit back and just enjoy the sounds.

Some songs are marred by a drooling slowness that destroys the pacing of the record, notably the sour Summertime Rolls which needed to be discluded from any future pressings. By the time Pigs in Zen comes around, most have lost any attention. Mountain Song has that huge bass lick that is just incredible, and it makes the song. There is a reason it remains a fan favorite aside from its overt popularity.

Nothing’s Shocking stands the test of time, but barely. It has enough ideas which were a breath of fresh air at the time. They were the ugly stepbrothers to the asshole older brother Guns N Roses. They are also vastly superior, but that is another story. Jane’s Addiction always carved their own path, and it made for a very sporadic trajectory. But their debut is a great example of great in memory, but upon revisitation, you can poke quite a few holes in the stagnant dated nature of the aesthetic.

Jimmy Eat World ‘Clarity’ Review

8/10It is often quite interesting to look into an hourglass of a band in the past, and wonder where their heads were to have created such a collection of songs. Jimmy Eat World just came off their sophomore album which made a tiny pretty damn inconsequential splash in the music world. It was a big step up from their pretty much unknown debut self-titled album which is out of print and rather mediocre for what it is. So Jimmy Eat World, in this tough musical world, was at it a third time. In some ways, this was their last hurrah. If it failed, they may linger in obscurity for a while longer (or just break up and become one of those critically acclaimed though never successful bands). So a bigger studio budget comes along, as an act of good faith, and Clarity surfaces from the rubble.

In hindsight, Clarity is almost purely emo rock. It may not have been the desire, but there are clear-cut influences from The Get Up Kids, Saves the Day, and the Promise Ring. The group fit right into that mold, nicely crafted soft-rock with a jagged edge. The clear undeniable winner is, dare I say objectively, Lucky Denver Mint. It’s soaring chorus shines and gleams and the rhythmic pulsing of the drums makes it hypnotic, alongside the soft-mannered vocal approach of front man Jim Atkins. It’s a splendid success. The title track, Clarity, is also gorgeous in its own merit, and worthy of a mention.

Unfortunately, beyond this, the album floats by on some contemporary and immediate peers styles. There is some Get Up Kids frenzy in Your New Aesthetic. There are some sprawling naturalistic and moody tones in Just Watch the Fireworks pulled right from the pen of the Promise Ring. Blisteris an upbeat number, unfortunately directly correlated to Jawbreaker’s entire career.

Perhaps this is a bit unfair. Every band has SOME kind of musical influences, unless they were locked in a room and forced to learn an instrument without any interaction. But Jimmy Eat World never quite come into their own, and though Clarity is a competent record featuring a variety of emo-tinged hooks, it does nothing to differentiate itself in the whole scheme of things. The group are grade-A pop masters, as they prove later on in their career as they continue to grow into their own (and crafting a series of some of the best albums in modern pop). Though for now, in 1999, the still young group tries to find its footing but pulling from a grab bag of previous efforts and trying to make something of it.