Three early editions today on three of my more anticipated records of the year:
Foxy Shazam - The Church of Rock and Roll (Jan. 24)
What an incredibly fun listen. It's a mix between the '70s rock that they get compared to most –*obviously, they get compared most to Queen but there are other influences here as well –*and '80s dance-rock that would have been played at high school proms. I think the fourth track, and obvious standout for me, "Last Chance At Love," spells out that description. Imagine if that song by The Darkness ("I Believe In A Thing Called Love") was just a little more catchy and a little less completely ridiculous (although Foxy is pretty ridiculous). "It's Too Late (Baby)" and "Wasted Feelings" are two of those types of songs that are almost so catchy it shouldn't be allowed –*the latter might actually be my favorite Foxy song just because of the chorus. There are a couple of misses on the record, but Church should have no problem helping this band rise to new heights. Foxy Shazam wants to be one of the biggest bands on the planet and they can do it.
The Menzingers - On the Impossible Past (Feb. 21) Chamberlain Waits is now The Menzingers' former masterpiece. It's not even a close call – this record is better in every fashion. It's a listen that goes by in a quick fashion despite the album's 41-minute run time (very long for a punk record nowadays), but you want it to last longer every time you listen. There are a lot of instantly memorable quotes scattered across the album ... "I've been having a horrible time," begins opener "Good Things." Later on in (in a song that I can't remember right now, and I don't want to search for the title) we get the gem, "I'm pretty sure this corner is the loneliest corner in the whole world." "Sun Hotel" is the catchiest number here, barely edging out first single "The Obituaries." The aggressiveness peaks with "Sculptors and Vandals," a 2-minute rager of a punk song. The dual vocals, as always, are the highlight throughout the album, but the guitar work is more interesting this time around as well.
Cheap Girls - Giant Orange
After only a few listens, the core sound is back but the production is a lot cleaner. It was pretty expected that this would be the case after they enlisted Tom Gabel of Against Me! fame and they signed to Rise to put the record out, but that doesn't change the fact that older fans are going to get weirded out when the vocals come through so cleanly. The muddy production was a part of this band's charm for me and many more listens will be required to get used to the new style; it's not that the songs are any worse, they're all good songs, they just sound a little different.
Some comparisons early on –*I've already heard all of my anticipated albums through the first two months of the year (with the exception of fun.) and The Menzingers' record stands out most. Foxy Shazam is a great fun listen but it's not quite in the realm of an AOTY contender, just as far as those gut feelings go when you hear an album that you know is going to stick with you a little longer than the rest.
Silverstein has taken a different trajectory throughout its career than most of the bands they came up with. They were part of a group of "screamo" or "post-hardcore" bands, or whatever you want to go ahead and call them, that got big in the middle of the 2000s. Discovering the Waterfront put them on the map; Arrivals and Departures continued their momentum; Shipwreck In the Sand was a cool concept record, but you could feel things growing stale; and Rescue was something of renewal for the punk aspects of the band's sound.
Silverstein has always toured with good bands, although they could have easily slipped into the wrong spectrum of the heavier music community. It seems natural for them to release Short Songs - a collection of 11 original songs and 11 old punk covers - although if one were to just listen to their most recent releases, it might not make sense. Rescue utilized a fair amount of punk influences, much like Discovering the Waterfront, and Short Songs is just Silverstein paying tribute to the bands it grew up on.
With a total of 22 songs but a run time of under 20 minutes, this is a quick listen. It's essentially an EP, but it's a fantastic idea and a great move for the band. The originals will appeal to both old fans and new listeners who check this out solely for the covers. At times, you wonder if Silverstein couldn't just take a step back and write a terrific Descendents-esque pop-punk record. Later in Short Songs, we actually get a Descendents cover - a neat and enjoyable take on "Coffee Mug." Other standouts are the NOFX cover of "It's My Job to Keep Punk Rock Elite" and the awesome Green Day cover of "The Ballad of Wilhelm Fink," where vocalist Shane Told sounds eerily like Billie Joe Armstrong.
In the end, Short Songs is a solid release for this band, but the most interesting aspect of it is wondering where the band will take its sound next. Personally, I think their tried-and-true format of half-sung, half-screamed vocals and breakdowns has seen its climax. I would love to see this band strip everything down, get into the Blasting Room with Bill Stevenson, and write a beastly punk/hardcore album. Or take a queue from your labelmates and record with Steve Evetts. You've covered American Nightmare before. You're covering NOFX and Gorilla Biscuits now. Silverstein, I've loved your band since the eighth grade - but for the sake of your continued relevance to older fans who have outgrown the "summer of screamo" and the likes of early Scary Kids Scaring Kids and Chiodos records - ditch your established (and slightly repetitive) sound, and make us a punk record. It seems like it's what you want to do anyway.
With the Punches are releasing a new single, "Harvard On the Hudson," on January 3rd, but we're going to have an exclusive stream of the song here on AP.net at noon on January 2nd. Holler! The band will release another single in February, which I won't say the name of, because I don't know if I'm supposed to.
"Harvard On the Hudson" is easily the best With the Punches track I've heard. In fact, it's good enough that I've gone back and revisited this band's first two EPs since hearing it. The song is your in your typical new-school pop-punk fashion; the drums are crazy fast-paced and the entire 3-minute track is aggressive. The vocals are blistering...sort of reminiscent of Matty Arsenault (A Loss for Words) at times, but I'm sure most people reading this already know what this band sounds like. This song shows me that With the Punches' cult following in the northeast could quickly turn into a much larger following.
The February single is a little change of pace - it features a real-life guitar solo and it's damn good - and what this song shows me is that Doghouse Records may have stumbled upon a band that's much more dynamic than we've seen so far. There is great potential in the differences between these two songs, where I could see this band releasing one of the more compelling LPs of 2012 in the spring. This band, in my mind, could become the new Set Your Goals or something. There is definitely a niche for them and The Story So Far to fill, and I can't think of two burgeoning bands who I'd rather see explode onto the community in 2012.
"Harvard On the Hudson" and the February single have made me pay more attention to this band than I ever have before, and now I won't be so surprised when their next full-length rules. Be sure to check out the stream on AP.net on January 2nd.
I don't understand why pop-punk kids put up with this band anymore. Skip School, Start Fights was streaky on a good day....on a bad day, it was good awful. Invicta is probably three times worse. It's a bad record. That's all I can say about it - it's bad. I can't make it through my fourth listen; I would rather listen to my entire top 50 in 2011 than this, the first big release of 2012. In fact, there are quite a few things I'd rather do than give Invicta another listen. I'd rather listen to the new Four Year Strong record a dozen times. I'd rather try to like Every Avenue again.
Hit the Lights isn't a bad band, I'm just not sure they remember how to make a good record. The vocals are the main issue, but they aren't the only bad part. What is going on with the guitars here? Nothing is crunchy. Nothing is edgy. It's all fucking BORING. Not only is it all typical, but it's all Albert Pujols expecting your next fastball. Invicta is simply boring.
Actually, no. I can't dismiss it as just boring. Have you ever eaten a Cinnabon??? Is there ever a reason to eat a Cinnabon? Let's see...I'm at the airport....I'm about to embark on a five-hour flight to Los Angeles....how about a pound of cinnamon-flavored cake? NO. How about, I'm at the mall...just bought a new Ed Hardy t-shirt...how about 1,000 grams of sugar? NO. (everyone listen to Jim Gaffigan's standup about food, where those jokes were lifted from.)
I'd rather eat 12 Cinnabons and face those consequences than give another listen to Invicta. It isn't a guilty pleasure. It's just a bad. record. It's bad. There are 0 (0.000) songs that I will come back to. This is how I know it's bad - on Skip School, Stars Fights, I played tracks 2, 3, 4, and 6 on repeat at some point. I don't know the names of those tracks - I just remember having a physical CD of that album in my car and playing those OVER AND OVER again. Not only are tracks 2, 3, 4, and 6 from SS, SF better than ALL of Invicta put together, but it's not even close. Did this band change guitarists and drummer? Did all of these band members turn back the clock to 2005 and try to write a record for the middle school version of me?
I encourage you to listen to Invicta. I encourage you to BUY Invicta, because I know that Hit the Lights are good guys and they deserve to keep playing music because they're good guys. But I want you to make your own opinion of Invicta, too. I'm sure plenty of people will like this album; I just won't understand why. It's too sugary. It's too tuned. It's too perfect-sounding. I like the punk side of pop-punk....and not only is there no punk here, there's barely even any pop-rock. It's just boring pop songs on repeat for 37:38, and there aren't any lyrics that make me want to return to the bad music. Invicta won't get any more plays from me. It hasn't been imported into my iTunes yet, and it won't ever be. I'll file the CD away in a bookcase. I want everyone to buy this album, listen to it and form their opinion because I'm interested in the compare and contrast - I just think this is the worst album Hit the Lights could have possibly written. Saying that I was anticipating this release is now embarrassing to me. I don't just long for the This Is A Stickup... days, I straight-up think this band should have changed their name before writing either of the albums that came after.
Finally, I am caught off guard. Most of the records I have praised this year were anticipated releases. Although some albums (The Wonder Years, The Horrible Crowes, Transit, etc) were much better than I could have predicted, and while there have been disappointments (Set Your Goals, The Swellers, The Wombats, whatever), I have yet to be completely off-guard by a release this year. A Loss for Words' No Sanctuary, their first album for Rise/Velocity Records, did just that, though.
No Sanctuary is unexpectedly diverse - not a quality I was looking for from the band that released the mediocre The Kids Can't Lose. Matty Arsenault's vocals are still some of the best in the genre, as we got a good glimpse of on their Motown Covers record. On one extreme, the album has some very poppy pop-punk; some of the songs could possibly fall into a pop-rock category. On the other hand, the title track is very punk-driven and has the heaviest parts the band has ever written, featuring screams from guitarists Nevada Smith and Marc Dangora. Arsenault's vocals blend pretty well amid the heavier parts, and it's interesting to see how a track like that feels as natural the straightforward pop-rocker "Raining Excuses."
AL4W also flash the ability to slow things down without getting generic or bland - we see this partially on "Pirouette," which is probably Arsenault's best performance on the record, and much more so on "Jetsetter." The main reason - and I keep coming back to this, for good reason - that the slow songs work is the vocals. A Loss for Words' versatility comes almost fully from Arsenault; he hits some ridiculous notes on this record and proves that he can match the powerful guitar tones without overtaking them. The musicianship here - really, the guitars - are also a highlight. Opener "Honeymoon Eyes" sort of shows that from the start, and I hope they don't release that song before the album's October 18 release date.
Everyone has already heard "The Hammers Fall," of course - and that song is a rare instance of a first track giving a pretty good insight into what the album sounds like.
It might not land among the best albums of 2011 for me, but AL4W has blown me away after a few days of listening to No Sanctuary. Among Rise Records' so-called "WTF Signings," each of the bands that we have heard new music from - Man Overboard, Transit, and now A Loss for Words - have all shown firstly that the decisions were good ones by Rise, and that signing to the label had absolutely no negative affects on their respective outputs. Now maybe we can stop hearing about that over and over again every time one of these groups has some news going on - Rise is proving itself to be a powerhouse among the punk and pop-punk scenes. This label has a lot of resources - they have the ability to put out a lot of new releases and to give each of them the push they deserve. It's tough to imagine Man Overboard and AL4W not blowing up with the help of the Rise name. Transit, meanwhile, is well on its way to becoming a much-adored AP.net favorite, and their longevity might outlast many of their peers.
Transit - Listen and Forgive
Had to put this one first up. Considering the situation Transit is in, signing to Rise and getting ready to release their most anticipated record, they sure as hell did something right in the studio this time around. Keep This To Yourself was a good pop-punk record, but in the EPs and 7"s released after that, fans will notice a decided shift toward a more Midwestern 90s emo-ish sound. That transition came to fruition on the two-song Promise Nothing 7", a release that went completely against its name and gave us the promise of a great Transit full-length to come. Joe Boynton steps it up a great amount in the vocal department, and while the transition (lol?) of this band's sound is continuing, there is still enough upbeat, pop-punk-y tones here to satisfy old fans. It's amazing to watch a group like this mature before our very ears, and with Something Left Behind and Promise Nothing, we were granted the rare opportunity to watch a group's transformation between two full-lengths. I consider myself grateful for the chance to watch these guys grow up, to watch them make better music every year. Now I am grateful for Listen and Forgive - Transit's best record and a guaranteed top 10 release in 2011.
Those left with heavy hearts who try to save the world are only left to sink. You left me to sink.
New Found Glory - Radiosurgery
Okay, the first time I heard the record, I thought - this is NFG's worst output. I was disappointed. But after a few more listens, I got progressively more into Radiosurgery, and I realized I just had a problem with the first track. This is supremely surprising, as NFG has always been good about choosing a rad opener that sets the tone for their records. But the title track (which definitely should not have been the first song released) is a terrible way to open this album, in my opinion. Luckily enough, literally every other song is classic New Found Glory, with that sorta 90s-style pop-punk sound they were talking about. These guys managed to produce another gem of an album.
Jack's Mannequin - People and Things
I can't remember if I already did a first impression post about this. Either way, it'll be short. People and Things is a great mixture of Everything In Transit and The Glass Passenger - something that fans should have expected. We get quality lyricism, insanely catchy songs and a little more of the classic rock influences that McMahon doesn't always let out. I would actually like to see him do a sort of stripped-down, acoustic singer/songwriter record - get rid of the piano maybe, and see what he can do when he lets all the Petty and Dylan come out. Oh yeah, we were talking about this record. I can't think of a pop-rock record that I will rank higher in 2011...Dinner and A Suit has a good full-length, but this McMahon's voice is something I will never tire of.
All Get Out - The Season
I don't know if all that many people know about this band, but The Season is being released on Favorite Gentlemen Records (run by a certain Manchester Orchestra) so that got my attention right away. Not surprisingly, what The Season shows off is a sort of quirky indie-style, more poppy version of a band that kind of sound like Man Orch. Sound like a weird description? It is. I definitely need more time with the album, but hopefully that gets people a little excited to hear it.
Into It. Over It. - Proper
I love Evan Weiss. He and I have these silly Twitter exchanges every once in a while about burritos or some ridiculous hashtag he tweeted, and when I meet him later this month it will have been meeting that has been in the works a long time. I reviewed his IIOI/KOJI split, his Twelve Towns LP, the split with him and Such Gold that was part of the Twelve Towns project, and the Stay Ahead of the Weather EP. All positive reviews, but I like SAOTW better than Evan's solo stuff, and it's because that EP was all full-band songs. Evan is a great songwriter - I have said that MANY times - and his acoustic, stripped-down songs are fucking awesome. But Proper is a full-band record, complete with distorted guitars and pick slides and all that totally punk shit. Anyway, Proper was my favorite IIOI release before I even got to the end of it, just because I realized it was louder than his other recent outputs. This is a good thing. Hopefully he starts touring with a full band.
I have one other album that I'm not allowed to talk about yet. But uh...it's really good. That's all I can say.
This little blog feature is now named Early Edition. It's because I used to watch that show called "Early Edition" when I was a kid, where a kitty would give a guy the newspaper for tomorrow, and he would read what happens and go save the world or whatever. I would have used that to win the lotto or something cool like that. I would have still saved people, though. So now this is called Early Edition because it's like a got the newspaper early but instead of a newspaper it's a record.
I’ve been listening to nothing but this album for about three days now. It’s fantastic. Brian Fallon’s vocals will make journalists call this band a “mellower Gaslight Anthem,” but that is lazy and it’s not even accurate. The musicianship is really not that similar, and only Fallon’s croon will bring the comparisons out. There are some standouts for sure: “Sugar” is a solid track early in the record and it’s followed by the most Gaslight-esque song on Elsie in “Behold The Hurricane.”
Every damn song is worth your while but the end of the record, with “Black Betty & The Moon” sitting there at track 10 (12 songs total), is where Elsie shines most in my opinion. “Black Betty” might just be the best song Fallon has ever written, and it’s the backbone of the whole record for me. There’s a point where Fallon is whispering that gives me shivers every time.
This is one of the best songwriters around right now doing whatever he wants. To me, this record defines Fallon as just as versatile a songwriter as Springsteen was at a similar point in his career. Fallon wrote the punk-er stuff with Sink Or Swim, he went all Born To Run on us with ‘59 Sound, and he found Gaslight’s true niche sound with American Slang. Now he pulls out this side project, with a record that most musicians will spend their whole lives wishing they could make. Fallon is my favorite songwriter around right now, and I think he is just as talented as anyone else around. I’ll follow his projects as long as he’s writing music.