Harris Grade: Sea In You
Release Date: September 20th, 2011
I’ve reviewed many albums for AP.net in the five years since I started frequenting the site. Many of the first ones were albums that I was listening to and felt compelled to write what I thought about them. Many didn’t fit the mold of AP.net, but it was more of a creative outlet than anything else. I would review just about anything – from Soulja Boy to Bone Thugs to G-Unit to Marc Broussard to Cartel. Then more and more I found myself perusing the new albums that Linda posted on the site because I wanted fresh and relatively unheard music. I’d pick three or four out of the hundreds on the list that caught my attention. More often than not I ended up a little disappointed in the final product after the first listen was so promising. The last review I did (Halocene) turned the tide a little bit, but when I listened to Harris Grade’s EP Sea In You, the tides completely shifted. It’s only a 3 song EP, but there’s something about the music that really hit a chord more than anything else I’ve reviewed in the last year.
The record starts with “Mission: Control.” It’s a rock/pop anthem and it’s pretty intense all the way through. Vocals are spectacular and the accompaniment is equal to the task. I’m big on great vocals that are also unique and not generic/cliché. There’s something about the vocals that I connected to like I haven’t been able to on some of my recent reviews. “How To Catch a Bullet” is also a pretty rock-heavy track, but it’s incredibly catchy and is something I could hear on the radio – if I actually listened to the radio anymore. And just like that, the last song of the EP, “Oceans” comes up. It’s a bit slower, but the drumline is exceptional and the chorus is loud, catchy, dark, powerful, and contagious. It seems like the album was over before it even really began, but all three tracks are great. “Oceans” is probably my favorite and had me wanting to hear more. The band is currently in the middle of making more music, so hopefully it’ll be sooner rather than later that we get to hear more Harris Grade. An empty “looking forward to their next stuff” wouldn’t do this band/album justice. Of the last ten album reviews I’ve written, I’d have to say I’m the most excited to hear more music from this band. If you’ve read the other reviews and know my musical taste, you’ll know that’s a pretty big deal for me. I hope this band is a big deal for you after you give this EP a listen.
1. Mission: Control
2. How To Catch a Bullet
Halocene – Can You Hear Us Now?
Record Label: Unsigned
Release Date: September 30th, 2011
One of the things about life is that you’re probably not the very first person to do something. Chances are it’s been done before. Music is no different. It’s very difficult to make something wholly original anymore. Reviews on AP.net (and just about everywhere else) will say, “Recommended if you like.” I am not putting that at the bottom of my reviews any longer, starting with this here review. It is essentially comparing the current music to music that’s come before it. Quick examination: Britney was dubbed the next Madonna. Now, Lady Gaga is our version of Madonna. Usher was supposed to be the next Michael Jackson. Then Chris Brown was. People even thought that original Hit The Lights were trying to copy Fall Out Boy (hence “The Call Out (You Are The Dishes)". It’s part of rating things; you compare it to other things that preceded it. In the morphed genre of pop/punk, it’s entirely rampant.
If you’ve read my other reviews, you’ll see that I’ve reviewed several female-led groups. In each of those reviews I’m sure I’ve drawn parallels to Paramore. In this genre, you can’t get away from it. Paramore really did things that no other group had done and they did it successfully. When Riot! went platinum, and they became uber famous, parallels were even drawn between Paramore and No Doubt. They have no grounds other than both bands being fronted by a pretty eccentric female, but you see what I’m getting at. It got me to thinking about the situations being reversed. Truth is, there probably wouldn’t be a Lady Gaga without Madonna. No Usher without Michael Jackson. No LeBron James without Michael Jordan, to bring in something outside the music world. In an attempt to review another female-led group, Halocene, without drawing parallels to Paramore, I will simply pretend like Paramore doesn’t exist. It’s the only fair thing to do. When reading it, try to envision the same. Okay, break.
Let me start the review of Can You Hear Us Now? by saying I’m very critical of female singers. For whatever reason, I scrutinize their music a lot more than I do male vocalists. I think that’s because I prefer the tone and pitch of male vocals, something that female vocalists simply can’t do physically. Not a knock on them. Just facts and just preference. With that said, I really like Halocene’s vocalist, Addie Nicole. It’s pure, but powerful. It’s perfectly suited for pop/punk (5 alliteration points).
The album starts with “Fragile and the Frail.” After listening to this album through several times, I’m glad they chose this to start the album. The chorus, it’s so catchy that it’s almost annoying, and I mean that in a good way. There’s even a very soft breakdown towards the end that makes the track even better. “Sometimes” is an angsty female anthem, and also catchy. I kind of think of Alanis Morissette and Meredith Brooks. Guitar work in this song makes it even more enjoyable. “Reckless” and “Toxic” bring out the rock, but again have the sound of a Morissette or even a dash of Benatar. Good old-fashioned music. “Next Best Kiss” shows off the softer quality of Addie’s voice and it’s a nice change-up from the first four tracks. She gets back to business with “Look What You Did” though. A song or two later we get to “Don’t Leave,” the slowest track on the album. But don’t confuse slow with not being good. It’s one of the best here. The 11-track album ends with “Last Dance.” I’m glad they went out with this song. It’s a bit dark and I even hear a bit of Panic! in there, where it gets really catchy. It’s probably my favorite on the album. On a very good album. Now, let’s huddle up again.
Now, I’ve stayed away from the Paramore comparisons for as long as I could. There are many similarities and parallels to be drawn, but where others have fallen short, Addie stacks up. That’s only a compliment in my eyes. Her voice has so many qualities that make it sound like Hayley; that’s just something you can’t get away from. The thing that should be taken away from this album is that it’s very good. My last few reviews haven’t been that favorable because I was left wanting more than I got. At the end of Can You Hear Us Now? I was left pleasantly fulfilled. The music is good. The vocals are good. The instruments are good. The production (self-produced by Bradley Amick) is good. So, forget the comparisons. What I want for this band is for them to make it because of the quality of their music, not fail because people think they’re a Paramore knock off. Don’t get it twisted. In another world, Paramore is the next Halocene.
1. Fragile and the Frail
5. Next Best Kiss
6. Look What You Did
7. Red Dress
8. Don’t Leave
9. Say All You Want
10. Worth It
11. Last Dance
Band members: Addie Nicole, Bradley Amick, Cash Hart
Produced By: Bradley Amick
June Divided – The Other Side of You
Record Label: Unsigned
Release Date: February 2011
I’m a recent college grad. I have no job prospects. Resume is updated and I’m looking, but nothing seems to stick. It’s a pretty desolate market out there. Sometimes I want to just turn my back on the entire job scene, throw my hands up, say, “Screw it,” and find something I truly love to do. If it weren’t for the fact that I need some green in my bank account, I’d do it. I’d forget the 9-5 and start something of my own. And, if I had any musical affinities, I’d do what Melissa Menago and Chris Kissel did and start a band. Fresh out of college and fresh out of patience with the working world, they did a 180 and started a band – June Divided. With the debut of their first EP, The Other Side of You, people should be happy they didn’t find office jobs.
After 86’ing the job market, songs were written, practices were had, a Craigslist ad was posted, and a quartet was officially formed. Their EP dropped in February of this year, and it’s jam-packed full of musicality in only 6 songs. It’s quite rare that I hear something on first listen and I like it. The Other Side of You was one of those rare occurrences.
The album kicks off with “If You Were Here.” It starts soft, gains some momentum, and eventually kicks right into a solid pop rock track. The chorus is catchy with a bit of an edge that keeps the song grounded in reality. “The Other Side of You” starts off faster with great guitar and drum work. It has a beat and a hook that would be amazing to hear and experience live. “Perfect Storm” starts off with guitars that you could’ve heard on Paramore’s Riot. Again, the chorus is written perfectly for the song and it’s perfect for getting stuck in your head. It’s an up-tempo song with the beauty of pop rock edginess. “Breathless” lends itself to a possible Evanescence comparison with some of the strongest vocals on the record. If you’ve heard any song from this EP, it would be “Bullet.” It’s gotten some local airplay in their hometown of Philadelphia and other stations across the country. Now, I’ve held off the Hayley Williams comparisons as long as I can, but when you hear this track, it’s undeniable. This is probably my favorite track on the EP because of the definite pop rock sound that it has. It’s the track that’s the catchiest and has the best chorus and chorus beat. The EP ends with “Shadows,” probably the darkest track. The lyrics are slow, but progressive. It’s the only true ballad on the album, which I understand and appreciate.
I want to also make note of how mature this band sounds. Both the founding members are graduates of Drexel University in the music industry program. They’ve played music since they were kids. Melissa has studied classical piano since she was 11 and has been playing the guitar since she was 13. The cohesiveness of the instrumentals is a joy to hear from such a new band. With a likening to bands like Explosions in the Sky, to Jimmy Eat World, to Evanescence, to Paramore, to even the slightest hint of a young Alanis Morissette, June Divided provides a smorgasbord of musicality for just about any pop rock fan. Let’s just hope they don’t find jobs anytime soon because I’m looking forward to a full-length. I suspect others will be looking forward to it, too.
Bizzy Bone - Crossroads: 2010
Record Label: Sumerian Records
Release Date: August 24, 2010
I can remember when rap was good. It’s been awhile since it was, but I still remember. Aside from a few artists here and there, it's just not the same. Back then the east coast vs west coast thing was creating a lot of waves, but also creating a lot of good music. Puff Daddy was still called Puff Daddy and Puff Daddy and the Family was all over the airwaves. Suge Knight was dangling people over balconies looking for loose change and a signature. The Tupac and Biggie rivalry was all people in the music biz could talk about. To this day, Biggie and Tupac are arguably the two best rappers ever. And mixed up in all this was the next big rap group, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Their debut EP Creepin on ah Come Up spawned their first big hit, “Thuggish Ruggish Bone.” Their first full-length E. 1999 Eternal was the defining album for the group with hits like “1st of tha Month” and “Tha Crossroads.” Eventually Bone Thugs went by the wayside, just like most of Puff Daddy’s aliases and relationships, but the absence of limelight created some solo albums from the members of the group.
Most notable was probably the launched solo career of the ever-enigmatic Bizzy Bone. I remember him recording lyrics from prison, before Shyne made it cool. His first album Heaven’z Movie debuted in 1998 and “Thugz Cry” was everywhere. It peaked at #3 on the Billboard 200 and #2 on the R&B/Hip Hop charts. Eventually the album was certified Gold and we had ourselves the next big rapper. Or did we? Since his debut, he’s released 11 albums on 9 different labels, each subsequent album making less and less of a splash. In August of 2010, he released his most recent album, Crossroads: 2010. I never listened to his solo albums, other than his debut, but label hopping and putting out an album almost ever year since 2001 made me question how good this record could be. The outcome? Not so good.
If the previous solo albums were a testing ground for what he wanted to say and what he wanted to sound like, I can only imagine the turns that were taken to end up with this album. It’s not weird. It’s not flamboyant. It’s not ground-breaking. It’s just not good. When looking at the spec sheet that his new label, Sumerian, sent me, the three things that hopped out at me were the guest appearances by Jonny Craig (of MacBook fame), Devin Oliver (I See Stars), and Danny Worsnop (Asking Alexandria). My first thought was that Bizzy was trying to capture a different audience (hence why I’m writing the review on AP.net) or that they all love to smoke a lot of weed. Or, maybe both. There’s not much to say about the record, but here are a few things.
The guest appearances were the best part of the album, and that’s saying something. On “Bottled Up Like Smoke,” Jonny Craig’s “Istillfeelher PartIII” is sampled (not re-recorded for the song), so it’s more of two guest appearances and a sample. Personally, I loved Craig’s “Istillfeelher PartIII” so it made the track somewhat enjoyable. “Cowboy” features Devin Oliver and I immediately gravitated to the chorus/hook. Both artists sound overproduced on the track, but Oliver’s vocals make the song memorable. Barely. “Automatic Rewind” features Danny Worsnop and in a song that lacked something memorable, the chorus kept me listening for the remaining three minutes of the track. In the end, many of the songs ran together like a really old tattoo that you don’t really like anymore. There were a few bright spots. “The Soul” has a decent beat. “Army on the Way” had a nice little subtle reggae beat. For me, “Gangsta Music” sounded the most like old Bizzy and old Bone Thugs. On most of the tracks, Bizzy’s nasally vocals, which were once part of his defining sound, have turned into more of a grating sound, like a high-pitched animal noise of some kind. For people that hate Lil Wayne’s voice, Bizzy Bone is almost the Chipmunks version of that on this record. In fact, there are several tracks where the vocals sound like Jimmy Fallon in the “Barry Gibbs Talk Show” skit on SNL, or even a Dave Chappelle skit, except it’s not funny or endearing. On “American Soldier,” I felt like his late patriotism was reminiscence of a Toby Keith song, but not matter what, I’ll always hate Toby Keith more. In spots, he still has lines that no one will ever understand, so if you dig that, you might dig the album.
Overall, I just felt like the album was put out for the sake of putting out an album. If his goal was to try and average an album a year, he’s getting close. He hasn’t been relevant for over ten years, so this couldn’t be an attempt to stay on the radar. He’s so far off the radar at this point that Tom Hanks had a better chance of being heard stranded on that island in Castaway. It’s a shame because I always used to dig his rhyme scheme, his flow, his swag, and embraced the indecipherable lyrics that once made him awesome. In an attempt to revisit that , a la E. 1999 Eternal and “Tha Crossroads,” I gave Crossroads: 2010 a listen. I much prefer the original and I’m sure you will, too.
Chocolate Bread - …Until My Mind Stretches
Record Label: Unsigned
Release Date: June 2010
I don’t know about you, but when I think of jam bands, I think about some unrehearsed group of kids who haven’t showered, getting up on stage at some shitty dive bar, playing for a tub of beer and a bucket of peanuts. Actually, I’d play for free beer, but you get my point. With that said, one thing’s for sure – Chocolate Bread isn’t a jam band. And, don’t let the funky name fool you into thinking otherwise. Not wanting to be pigeon-holed, they list their sound as experimental/soul, which I can totally get down with.
Formed a year ago, they are an eclectic group of musicians who came together after being in and out of local Jersey bands. From talking with them, they seem focused and determined to make good music with this band and have a drive that they pull from their experiences in previous musical endeavors.
With their debut album titled …Until My Mind Stretches, they are looking to constantly grow and progress without generalizations about their genre of music. And after three consecutive spins, I must say that I found it hard to put them into a certain category, which is precisely what they were going for.
The album starts off with “Wet Feet” which seems like a fitting segue into an album where you’re supposed to let your mind take you where it will. Without coming off too strong, the track has a nice big-band sound with great piano and trumpet interludes. The next track, “Radical Rattlesnake” has mad soul and sounds like something I’d hear in a gritty New Orleans jazz bar. The hook and windy instrumentals are definitely catchy as hell. The third track, “Salvation,” is my favorite on the album. With a folk-sound reminiscent of twenty years ago, it sounds current and is encapsulating. I feel like I’m sitting on the porch, playing it with the band. Another track that I really liked was “Elevate” with duel vocals from Andrew D’Elia and Anthony DeRosa. It’s groovy and soulful with a reference to John Legend’s Get Lifted that didn’t go unnoticed. All the tracks play perfectly off one another, so all of them help create a complete album.
In the end, …Until My Mind Stretches is more than a solid debut for this newly formed band. Andrew D’Elia and Anthony DeRosa share a lot of the vocal duties and trade off very nicely. Their voices aren’t overtly strong, but they’re pretty perfect for the music this band makes. The lyrics are absolutely incredible and possess the wisdom of a Kermit Ruffins all formulated in a way to be current and stay current. Taylor Mandel, despite looking like the “Schnozberries taste like schnozberries” dude from Super Troopers, plays a nasty trumpet. Matt Moges and Paul Brasil help round out this eclectic fit of musicians with groovy guitar and subtly understated drums. Nine tracks make up the album and there isn’t any filler on it. Tracks are normal length, but breeze by in a way that makes you wonder where time went, forcing you to put it back on repeat. Imagine a mix of G Love, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Dorian Wright, Will Hoge, and Citizen Cope - and you have Chocolate Bread.
Oh, and what’s funny is that they have zero fans on AP.net. I’m thinking that should definitely change after people get a hold of this record.
Recommended if You Like: folk/soul, good jam bands, trumpets, piano, New Orleans, grit, G Love, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Dorian Wright, Will Hoge, hitting repeat
Cartel – Cycles
Record Label: Wind-Up Records
Release Date: October 20th, 2009
In the pop-punk genre, Cartel is pretty much a household name. How this came to be, well, that actually depends on the household. In music you’re only as good as the last thing you’ve done, so most people will remember their stint in the bubble rather than their critically acclaimed debut album Chroma. A shame? Yes, but that’s just how this business works. So, rather than debate the validity of that album or even to try and compare it to their debut, let’s move onward and upward, in a direction where acronyms like “MTV” and words like “Bubble” will only apply to people like Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers’ purity rings. In a direction where we can focus on Cartel’s spin on some newly inspired pop-punk music via the vehicle Cycles, their newly released album.
Two years ago, it’s no surprise that Cartel seemed poise to break it exponentially huge following the success of Chroma. They toured for over two and half years off that record. With each tour, they garnered more and more praise, and more and more fans. Opening shows was a thing of the past. They were headliners, and rightfully so. Then, after their sophomore release, Cartel, they almost fell completely off the map. To say that it’s been a tumultuous few years would be an understatement, to say the least. Things that would’ve crushed other bands into obscurity only seemed to inspire, motivate, and propel Cartel forward into their new release. With the past behind them and Will Pugh’s vocals in front of them, the new album is picturesque of the cycle they’ve gone through over the last thirty-six months.
Cycles opens up with “Let’s Go” a track that is an homage to everything that they’ve been through. Pugh fires out from the gate with “Let me reintroduce myself, as a man with a cause. I’ve had a lot of time to think and look at who we are.” It’s two minutes and forty seconds of a sweet, sweet pop-punk anthem that starts this album off in fine Cartel style. “The Perfect Mistake” rolls up next and has a hook and chorus that we have come to expect from the band. “Faster Ride” has to be a crowd favorite with it’s up-tempo chorus and catchy lyrics. A personal favorite on the album is “Deep South.” It’s a tribute to their heritage in Conyers, Georgia. It’s dark and heavy, but it’s also alive and vibrant with lyrics like “I was born in the south. Given to a town, raised on hand to mouth. Born on the same day as the sun, holding in the Earth’s seed, one by one.” The chorus is one of the most powerful to date – “Go and get my bones, bring’em to the Deep South. Somewhere they can thaw out. Here in the Deep South.”
There are very few hiccups on this album. In fact, I love each song, all in their own way. “27 Steps” might sound generic on the first listen, but its charisma opens up after a few spins. “Typical” shows Pugh’s vocal strength when he hits the chorus and hook. Songs like “Only You,” “It Still Remains” and “See Me Now” might feel like filler on an initial listen, but after listening again and dissecting the lyrics, they have their own attributes, and flaws, that will make you fall in love with them too. The album ends with “Retrograde,” which is probably my favorite track and, by far, one of the best Cartel tracks ever. It’s powerful, poignant, and epic in its message and delivery. While I’m sure everyone will always compare each release to Chroma, I honestly feel that with their growth and maturity over the last few years, Cycles is their best material yet. Sure, there’s no “Q” or “A” or “Minstrel’s Prayer,” but really, I don’t want another Chroma.
Cycles is about where they were, where they’ve been, and where they are now. It’s an album about what they’ve learned. An exiting lyric on “Retrograde” says all we need to know about Cartel and their journey thus far – “I’m out of place, I’m a different state. A little scattered by a bitter fate. I’m losing touch, but I’m not afraid. I’ll be okay, just in a different way.” Their tales are present and raw in the form of a great pop-punk album that should surely bring Cartel back to the forefront of this genre. This time, for all the right reasons.
27 years old seems to be a senior citizen on this site and I'm okay with that. One thing that 27 years of living and learning will bring you is the ability to sift through the bullshit. With a median age of probably 19, most AP users are figuring out how to tell the difference between the bullshit and real talk.
Some people, like my younger 'sister' Rachel - who is only 17 - can spot a fake from the stratosphere. She's grown up faster than she needed to because her mother is a drug addict and her dad is an alcoholic. He's never hurt her or put her in danger, but he is an alcoholic and she knows it. She is an only child, forced to play the role of older sister, mother, housekeeper and concerned daughter - and she's still in HS. She rarely lets her guard down or allows herself to be a kid. But, every now and then, I finally see the young girl in her and it makes me happy for her. She tells me stories about just growing up and the life most of us have left behind us, where it belongs. But, some of her stories remind of a time where kids were cruel and unusual, far from grown up.
The last few weeks have taken me back to a place where gossip and hearsay ran rampant. Most of it was a bunch of lies and shit that juvenile kids made up to be spiteful and hurtful. If you were so unfortunate to have your name thrown in the mix, you felt betrayed and infuriated. You were then forced to defend yourself against allegations that, in hindsight, are completely frivolous and unfounded. At the time, though, you didn't realize it. It was you being a kid. And, that's where it should have stayed - you being a kid. But, it never does, does it?
Over the last week I've seen adults act like children and I've seen children act like adults. The common denominator? The idea that high school hasn't escaped us. For the children, it shouldn't escape you. For the adults, it should have. So, let's grow up because all that petty BS was so high school.
Elliott Yamin - Fight For Love
Record Label: Hickory Records
Release Date: May 5th, 2009
In the vernacular of the music industry, a coined term like "sophomore slump" is not a phrase that you want floating around your music. Typically, while stereotypes are unfair generalizations about certain things, they are, however, usually formed from some sort of fact. Statistically speaking, a successful debut album is a blessing, but in most circles, it's a curse. So, the moment an artist gets around to writing and recording a second record, they try, at all costs, to avoid becoming a magnet for a phrase such as this.
With his sophomore release, Fight For Love, Elliott Yamin has not only managed to steer clear of a slump, but he's essentially set up residence in a completely different zip code. With emphasis on his power R&B vocals and soultry prowess, Yamin moves on from his debut roots with the maturity and poise of someone who plans to stick around just a little bit longer.
"Let Love Be" opens the record and is easily my favorite track on the album. It's hook and beat are something that will immediately let you get into the music and feel the chorus. "Fight For Love" is definitely the most appropriate choice for first single, just as "Wait For You" was on his debut album. It's a bit of a mesh between current R&B and also the R&B that our parents grew up with. "You" is a slower, hard-hitting ballad, somewhat reminiscent of "I'm The Man" from the last record. Some of the songs, on first listen, might seem to run together. But, after one full spin, they start to take on their own life. And, songs like "Know Better," "Don't Be Afraid," "You Say," and "Apart From Me," make this record heady yet not crass. Just smooth enough without being coarse. It's just poppy enough not to be a sell-out.
With fellow American Idol graduate Daughtry's second album coming out in less than a month, Yamin has set a precedent that Daughtry will be lucky to avoid, but not naive enough to ignore. Yamin can look back on his first and second albums with a sense of pride that he conquered both his freshman and sophomore year. Here's to hoping his junior year is just as good.
Karate High School - Invaders Release Date: May 19th, 2009
Record Label: Eyeball Records
Let's face it, we have pop music and long, long ago, we had punk music. Sometime in between, these two musical genres found each other in a dark and whimsical alley where they fornicated like rabbits, creating a million bastard children that we now call pop-punk. Some of the offspring make their parents proud while the rest of the offspring have their parents not showing up for Back-To-School night. Karate High School takes after the more paternal nature of pop-punk, with tribute to The Ramones and even Green Day - something a boasting father should be proud of. But, with a heap of praise comes a To-Do list that will turn the potential into something tangible.
With their third release, Invaders, they attempt to make a record that people will listen to and like, no hidden agendas or innuendos to ponder over. The bio on their MySpace claims nothing more than they are a band who wrote some songs and put out a record. But how is it? Well, between tracks one and eleven, I found myself liking it and hating it. For those who know me, and accept the pessimist that I am, starting with the negative should surprise no one. The only real downer would be that singer Paul McGuire has one of the most enigmatic - and not in a good way - voices that I've heard. I found myself caught between enjoying the tone and then in other parts heading for the nearest exit. It can't be denied that McGuire's vocals, at least on this record and in this setting, are shaky. Softer inflections and longer, more gentle notes come across as weak and shrieky. Parts where he belts out the lyrics are where he should concentrate because that's where I found the most enjoyment.
Now, the more, glass-half-full approach would be that this is the first band, in a great while, where I feel like they could make a genuinely authentic punk record. Songs like "One Trip Around The Sun" and "If You Don't Live Here, Don't Surf Here" are tracks that give this record the edge it needs to keep you listening. The instruments and song structures are unique and different, allowing you to distinguish one track from another, which is more than I can say for several other bands that I've listened to lately (see previous reviews). The gold medal track on the album, though, would have to be "Punk Rock Uniform." The lyrics are witty and nostalgic with lines like "You might think it's ironic and a little bit wrong, to sing about punk in a pop-punk song." With definite single potential and a ton of accessibility, I found this track to be the gem of an album that I felt had a ton of potential, a ton of promise, but in the end failed to deliver.
For me, I'd have to attribute my lack of enjoyment, not to the structure the band possesses or the delivery of their music, but rather my original complaint: Paul McGuire's voice. It overshadowed the geniune enthusiasm I had for the album when I found the band on MySpace. With work on the negative and an album more towards his power vocals, I think that Invaders would have been a record that I could have listened to all summer long. Now, it becomes an album that is removed from my iPod in order to make room for more music that I know I'll enjoy.
DAY26 -Forever In A Day
Release Date: April 14th, 2009
Record Label: Bad Boy Records/Atlantic Recording
If you think that people stopped watching Making the Band after the debauchery that was O-Town, you'd be sadly mistaken. There are at least fifteen or sixteen viewers, myself included, who are still currently part of Diddy's world of NO BITCHASSNESS. Although, if you have watched it this past season, and I assume the vast majority of the free world hasn't, we've been blessed with plenty of bitchassness to tide us over for quite some time. But, in between girl fights (what up Q and Bryan!), tempter tantrums (what up Q!), the disbanding of Danity Kane and the shameless plugs for Diddy's new album Last Train to Paris, DAY26 put out their sophomore album, Forever In A Day.
To provide the briefest of history - Making the Band was switched over to MTV under the supervision of one, Sean Combs. Just as with most shows on MTV, no one really watched. It detailed the ambitious goal of creating international pop stars. The first band, aptly named Da Band, was the biggest clusterfuck you've ever seen. With fights every episode, a man who couldn't pronounce his own name (what up Dylan!) and even a dude who still sucked his own thumb, that train stopped faster than it started and Diddy regrouped and went back to drawing board. Fast forward and you have a 5 piece girl group, Danity Kane, and a 5 piece male group, DAY26. Danity Kane has sold millions of records with two number one albums, to date. DAY26 has sold about eleven copies of both their records.
So, how was their sophomore album? I mean, they can't be that bad, they at least made it to a second album, right? Eh, not so fast. While Diddy will plug them as the best male R&B group out now, it's not saying much since there aren't any other R&B groups out there now. They win by default. Now, with that said, they aren't half-bad singers. They have decent voices and when put together, even without mixing/editing/autotune, they can hold a tune. Being a reality TV junkie, I decided to get this album. From the first note, I knew I was gonna like it. That was until I got past number five. Once it hits that point, the album is downhill. And by downhill, I mean a runaway freight-train couldn't get to the bottom faster. "Just Getting Started" kicks the album off and is instantly catchy and powerful. Their single "Imma Put It On Her (featuring Yung Joc)" is just as hooky and radio-friendly. I love bumping it with my windows down. "Shawty Wats Up (featuring T-Pain)" is full of the assumed vocoder effects, but it's effective in the same right. "Stadium Music" is an anthem of a song that makes the first five songs an appetizing preface. However, the next ten songs could be interchanged with one another, lacking an distinct quality whatsoever. I found myself skipping forward ten times until the album was back to track one, where I listened to the first five songs in repeating succession. As soon as track six came around, I either went back to one or I turned it off. If R&B groups did EPs, then the first five tracks would surely rock.
In the end, what I had hoped would be a solid club album turned into a teasing five track work-up, followed by ten sappy ballads that would make Luther Vandross cringe in his grave. MTV would be wise to cancel this show, if they haven't already, and the remaining fifteen viewers would be wise to find other trash TV to watch. Something more entertaing, like the Duel II, for example. As it goes without saying, for me at least, I'd probably watch another season of MTB, but I certainly won't shell out any money again.
Dropout Year – The Way We Play
Record Label: Unsigned
Release Date: April 7th, 2009
Let’s be honest and say that Maryland is known for their crab cakes and football. Or, at least I heard that somewhere before. Regardless though, in recent years, Maryland has spurned a Mogwai-like affinity for pop-punk music. Hailing from Owings Mills, which is known for housing the Baltimore Ravens headquarters and a substandard shopping mall, Dropout Year could throw a baseball to their neighbors, All Time Low, who are from Towson. And, oddly enough, proximity on a geographic scale can translate to proximity on a musical scale as well.
In this genre, people sometimes mistake good music for ingenuity and originality. And, as the average age of this fan base gets younger and younger while steadily leveling out, people will often forsake new material and opt for things that sound familiar. When All Time Low burst into picture a few years ago, there was nothing groundbreaking or deftly original about their music. Alex Gaskarth has a distinguishable, yet powerful, voice and I think that, after listening to Dropout Year, we’ll continue to see that same platform of music being made. However, let me put this out there now and say that Dropout Year are a quality band with some incredible potential. I don’t use that word to be patronizing or back-handed, but rather to be positive about their music. They play their instruments cleanly and accessibly. Lead vocals, by Steve Reter, are akin to Gaskarth’s in an almost uncanny way. But, it goes without saying that after listening to their new EP, The Way We Play, I can’t help but feel like I just spent a half hour listening to All Time Low, circa 2007.
The EP starts with “This Notebook”, an instantly catchy and infectious track. The guitar riff and drums are instantaneously pleasing and when the vocals get brave and we hear “So now I tip-toe in a new direction,” one can be giddy with excitement for the rest of the record and a newer, more original sound. What one gets is some amazingly catchy, pop-punk music without a new direction. It’s full of whoa-oh-like gang vocals and feel good tunes, but it’s nothing fresh and innovative. With production from Rob Freeman (Hit the Lights, Cobra Starship), this album takes on a mash-up attitude by sounding like Hit the Lights, All Time Low and Mayday Parade, all at the same time. “Mile Marker” is second and I almost expected to hear the beginning of HTL’s “Save Your Breath” based on the instruments and intro. As you get deeper into the song, you hear “cause the mile marker is bringing me home,” which will bring All Time Low’s, So Wrong, It’s Right, to immediate mind. “Counting Down” is a track that starts out on a “Girls Do What They Want” by The Maine path and rolls along with a “Tell Me Where You Are” by Hit the Lights vibe. There are, however, a few more original tracks such as “Pretty You” and even some of “As You Wish” that help salvage hope for music that travels the unbeaten path.
In the end, my critique of them wouldn’t be that they don’t play good music. In fact, they play some of the more refreshing and accessible pop-punk out there. It’s clean and crisp and the production makes for a great listen. My critique would be that it’s nothing that a listener hasn’t heard before. As a fan, we want to put Dropout Year on and hear them play. Instead, we turn on the new EP and hear Dropout Year sound like the bands we were hoping they’d branch away from.
John Mayer - Continuum
Release Date: September 12, 2006
Record Label: Aware/Columbia
Oh man, how I hated John Mayer. When I first heard "No Such Thing", I couldn't stand it. Something about the idea of running through the halls of my high school was neither nostalgic nor poignant. For years, I wrote him off. I never denied he was a talent or that he was a gifted musician. It was just something about that first hit single that bothered me. Maybe it was too poppy or too cliché for me. Whatever it was, it wasn't good.
Let's fast-forward a few years, to the point where I can take back all the bad things I said. To the point where I can whole-heartedly stake a claim that John Mayer is one of my favorite artists. At first, I didn't know what it was that made me change my mind. Then it hit me: Continuum. This album single-handedly pulled a 180 and I was on the track to loving his music, his lyrics, his antics and his attitude. Team Mayer or Team Aniston aside. His propensity for mouthing off, "My Stupid Mouth" style, aside. His apparent disregard for normalcy aside. Hell, even now, with his incessant and incoherent Tweet's aside. John Mayer, despite all naysayers, is an enigmatic and energetic artist that pretty much makes other artists look like they aren't trying very hard. For proof, one needs look no further than Continuum.
From start to finish, it's his best work to date. The uber popular hit single, "Waiting On The World To Change", is the appropriate song to start the album. In our own lives we get involved in current affairs in our own way. Artists like John Mayer (even the Dixie Chicks) get involved with the instrument they were given: their music. Not only is the song an anti-war theme, it's about an overall change that everyone needs to make. It's retrospective and prospective at the same time. "Belief", "Vultures" and "Slow Dancing In A Burning Room" are the albums best. With the drum line, catchy guitar riffs and lyrical panache, "Belief" delivers a few items of note to your think-tank. With an equally catchy guitar riff and drum line, "Vultures" is my favorite track on the album. Lyrics like "Some of us, we're hardly ever here. The rest of us were born to disappear," start this song about the scrutiny that we all live our lives under. The guitar solo in the middle just reinforces how clever and innovative Mayer is with his instrument. "Slow Dancing In A Burning Room" glides along just how you would expect this aptly titled song to glide. It's slow. It dances. It burns. It's the exact type of song that only Mayer can get away with.
Songs like "I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You)", "Stop This Train", "In Repair" and "The Heart of Life" are all excellent and only compliment the rest of the album. While not my favorite tracks on the album, they are far superior to what other artists could only dream of creating and are perfect transitional songs for an album as good as Continuum.
Overall, this record is as grey as the album artwork would indicate. There are no songs like "No Such Thing" or 'Your Body Is A Wonderland." It examines a different side of the world. A part of life that people rarely want to think about or even examine. It's a revolutionary piece of music that changed my view on his music. And, in the end, I believe that the album was designed to do just that.
Marc Broussard - Carencro
Release Date: August 3rd, 2004
Record Label: Island Records
The most pessimistic of people will read the last chapter of a book first, to know the ending, just in case they were to kick the bucket mid-novel. It’s a sour way to look at the world, and in most cases, knowing the ending isn’t much of anything if you don’t know the beginning. So, as a music listener, one could choose to listen to Marc Broussard’s newest album, Keep Coming Back, rather than start at the beginning with Momentary Setback. Truthfully, you can’t go wrong with anything Marc Broussard has created, but I think that to understand it all, you have to start at the beginning and work your way to the end.
Honestly, you can’t appreciate what Keep Coming Back is all about unless you know that it came so far from Momentary Setback. And, you can’t appreciate the heart soul of his newest work without understanding the sweat he poured into his next effort, Carencro. It’s all a progression that needs to be experienced in the correct order. Like reading a book series out of order, listening to Marc Broussard out of order won’t give you all you need to know about one of the most gifted singers and songwriters we’ll ever hear.
For me, I truly found out who Marc Broussard was when I listened to Carencro for the first time. Broussard, born and bred in the bayou town of Carencro, Louisiana, puts forth a sophomore record that just oozes the sweat from a hot southern night in mid-July. You can almost touch the kind of soul that comes through the stereo when this record is on. It let’s you know exactly where he came from and exactly where he is going. The album starts with “Home”, the finest Broussard song to date. It’s the embodiment of deep southern soul music. It’s infectious guitar riff and tambourine-laden chorus is absolutely incredible. “Rocksteady” is the next track and it’s got the vivacity of a full pub on a Friday night. It’s all about having fun and being fun. “Come Around” has a soulful, slow start, but it breaks into a grooving chorus and second verse. One of my favorites on the album is “Lonely Night In Georgia.” It’s the ultimate slow and painful brooding of a song that let’s you into what life is like for a musician on the road. “The Wanderer” is carried over from his first album and rightfully so. It’s a song about finding yourself. About figuring out where you want to go in life. It’s a wonderful song to highlight where life has taken you. Probably the most touching song, “Gavin’s Song,” ends the album. It’s written for his son, while on tour. It talks about how much he misses his home, his family, his wife, and most importantly, his son. As a listener, it chills me every time to hear it. In fact, it is so moving that while performing at his last show in my area, Broussard actually shed a tear after singing it because he missed his son so much.
It’s this type of emotion that makes Broussard such a compelling artist. He’s real in the realest sense of the word. He’s never fake and brutally honest with his music, his lyrics and his sincerity. For someone so young, he holds the pose of a true veteran storyteller. He emanates from his soul and he's so expressive with his raspy, soulful voice. It starts on a piece of paper, but comes to life when his hands touch the guitar. You can see it in his face that he loves his music. You can see it in his eyes that he still has more to tell us. He’s become a master of telling us a story that we’ll always want to listen to. And in the series of Mr. Marc Broussard, his second novel, Carencro, should never be skipped. Only read and re-read.
Jackson’s Kid Summer – Sierra Sunshine
Release Date: November 22nd, 2008
Record Label: Unsigned
Ever had a friend that felt so passionately about something that you really wanted to like what it was they were so passionate about? Jackson’s Kid Summer falls into a parallel category of loving what they do, but I don’t find myself liking their music. Honestly, it’s disheartening to see good people doing stuff they love when it just turns out to be something that you don’t love.
I tried. I honestly did try, which is more than I could say about previous bands that wanted me to listen to their music but turned into seething douchebags. But, this wasn't the case. The band personally mailed their album, Sierra Sunshine, to me, with a note thanking me for the review, with hopes that I would like what they had created. It’s a very vulnerable position to put yourself in, but they did it with a smile on their face. When I got the album, I had never heard of the band, so I looked them up. There’s not much to be found other than they were formed a few years ago and are from New York. The pictures that I found seemed genuine and warming, like they loved what they did and loved each other.
But, the bottom-line, for me, was that the music wasn’t very appealing. First, the band utilizes dual lead vocals, shared by Jack Nolan and Kate Ellen Dean. In a genre where there aren’t too many female vocalists, they take a bit of a risk with sharing the lead vocals. For me, the risk doesn’t really pay off. The shared vocal duties seem too crowded for the listener and the pitch/tone difference makes the disparity much more noticeable. I must say though, Jack Nolan’s vocals are quality. In fact, I would have liked the album more if the band had used only Nolan’s vocals. With a sound akin to Jason Lancaster (Go Radio, ex-Mayday Parade), I found his range and control quite pleasant. When isolated, Kate Ellen Dean has a nice tone to her voice, but in all honesty, the added vocals only make the record less accessible.
That isn’t to say that the entire album is disappointing. The instruments are quality and enjoyable, but the problem is that the arrangements on some of the songs make them sound the same. One favorite is “Go South,” probably because Nolan is the primary vocalist on the song. It’s quiet and controlled, with less instrumentals and more focus on his vocals. Another favorite is “So Obvious” due to the guitar piece. When you mix the lyrics in, they were decent, but in other places, they seemed random and scattered. I think that had they used only one vocalist, had a little more direction with their lyrics and changed the arrangements/melodies on certain songs, I would have found the album a much better listen.
In the end, it’s a little bittersweet to write this kind of review. With such friendly people, you want to love the music. You want to put it on your iPod and make it part of your continual catalog. Just as you’d want to love a friend’s cooking, I really wanted to like this album. But, while I will say that the album didn’t appeal to me, I’d recommend the album, because I do have a feeling that someone will, in fact, love the music that Jackson’s Kid Summer loved to make.
Okay, so before you read, just know the title of my blog entry is saying something, and it's not something good.
I've heard great things about it, and although I'm not a big Eastwood fan, I wanted to see it. At the end of the movie, which was highlighted by an original Eastwood track nonetheless, I felt like I had wasted 2 hours of my time. I can't see what any of the good reviews see and I don't know why people continue to kiss Clint Eastwood's old wrinkled ass. This movie was one of the worst movies I've seen in a very, very long time and here's why:
1) The acting from just about EVERY character, including Eastwood, is 2nd rate and amateurish. The scipt and dialogue are so rigid and rehearsed it's almost a parody on itself. I can't think of a character whose acting wasn't just uncomfortable to watch. Well, maybe the barber. And even his lines were totally scripted and unnatural. On top of that, Eastwood spent the entire movie growling. Seriously, growling.
2) A storyline/plot that could have turned into a learning experience and historical gem was ruined by such terrible acting, cliched connotations and way too many ethnic slurs. I've never seen a movie with as many blatently obvious slurs and angered egregiousness. It was like they wanted to brow-beat the words into your skull. That, and I think that they used every possible slur you could think of towards Asian people. It was like Eastwood wanted to leave no stone unturned. It was annoying and unnecessary.
You wrap up the total cliche that this movie runs on and combine it with terrible acting - you get a movie that people will give some weird critical acclaim to. But, I can guarantee you that if this movie didn't have Eastwood in it or directing it, this movie would be the biggest flop in Hollywood, which is a shame because it might be good under those circumstances.