Archive for July, 2018

Astpai, hailing from Wiener Neustadt, Austria, has been a band for over a decade. But this, their sixth full-length LP, is their first album since 2014’s “Burden Calls.” It’s also their first release of any kind in two years, since the “Run From Home” 7” EP. The band blends a variety of sounds together, including melodic punk, pop punk, and hardcore. And, though they’re from Austria, lyrics are sung in English. The album opens with “Rotten Bait,” which has an intro that sounds sort of like prog rock, and builds in intensity. When the song really gets going, though, it becomes a melodic hardcore song, reminding me of what Pears sound like, except slowed down just a bit. It rocks with a more moderate tempo, but has hard-edged instrumentals and loud raspy vocals. “Lottery” follows, with a more loping pop punk feel, with a sound from the last decade. Harmonized vocals, a strong drumbeat, and guitars that keep time just as much as the drums and bass are keys here. I like “No Hero,” which has a very modern, emotional pop punk sound, with a strong backbeat. Vocals are mostly solo, with a great gruff feel. The band doesn’t use gang vocals, but this is the kind of song where the crowd will be singing along quite loudly. The track that’s the most different from all the rest, and may be my favorite, is the title track. “True Capacity” is a hard, pounding post-hardcore track with rumbling bass and roaring vocals. The anger is palpable, the melodic line repetitive and unyielding. I wish there were a couple more tracks like this, but that’s really not who Astpai are – the melodic pop punk sound is strong with them.

Check it out here: https://shieldrecordings.bandcamp.com/album/astpai-true-capacity

PS

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Holy shit! Powerful, dynamic pop punk’n’roll from where? Denmark? Yes! Five songs worth of goodness! The songs are pretty intense, including the vocals – nothing is held back. “Sleep” opens the EP with plenty of “whoa-ohs,” a raucous melody, and strong vocals. I hear a lot of RVIVR in “Words,” which was the band’s lead single. It’s got that striding open sound and passionate vocals. “Weird” shifts between a cool angular line and a melodic punk feel that reminds me of San Diego local favorites Squarecrow. The title track is probably the weakest of the bunch – not that it’s weak or bad – it’s just less unique than the rest, with a pretty standard polished pop punk sound. My favorite track is the closer, “Road.” It’s got a great underground rock’n’roll sound, in the vein of Canada’s The Dirty Nil, including that band’s intense, higher register vocals and grungy punk sound. Really great stuff!

Check it out here: https://foreverunclean.bandcamp.com/

PS

Illuminati Hotties is LA musician Sarah Tudzin. I like how she describes herself on her Facebook page: “Pioneering tenderpunk in the sprawl of LA and trying not to break too many hearts along the way.” She certainly is breaking my heart. The songs are creative and expressive. The songs range from soft and delicate to loud and raucous, but always energetic, bouncy and poppy, save for the ballad, “Cuff.” I love the ambient opening of this song, a perfect mood setter, as the vocals come in, quiet and morose. The song goes up and down, crescendoing a couple of times in a huge, grunge-filled chorus. I also love “For Cheez (My Friend, Not The Food),” a gorgeous, delicate song with plucked acoustic guitar and keyboards that also explodes with loud grungy goodness toward the end. “(You’re Better) Than Ever” is a highlight of the album, coming immediately after the short title-track intro. It embodies everything that is perfect about this record: great song writing, interesting arrangements, fun hooks and melodies, and an enthusiastic vocal performance. “Paying Off The Happiness” is a little jangly number about living in debt, not just financially – emotional debt, as well. The song has one of the best lines of the album, too: “At 24 I’m somehow making rookie mistakes.” As if the youth of today think everything is supposed to always be perfect? The juxtaposition of upbeat jangly pop song with lyrics about coming up short in life makes it a winner. “Pressed 2 Death” sees Tudzin singing about not so friendly competition, because “You only like me when I’m sad / You only want me when I’m feeling bad.” And the closer (save for a bonus single edit of “Cuff”), “Declutter,” goes right to the heart of the soul. Quiet plunking on a piano is accompanied by a heart-breaking vocal, barely above a whisper, singing about a breakup. At the midpoint, we hear background noise, of meal preparation in kitchen, as Tudzin sings, “Mark the hours by my meals / Each decision has me dragging my heals.” It’s an intensely depressing feeling. As the song ends, we hear a voicemail message, a man’s voice apologizing if she’s sleeping, but he has some good news for her and he’s going to go to sleep now and wants to hear her voice.” Devastating. Tudzin normally spends her time behind the recording board, making other bands sound good. It’s amazing to hear her come to the fore and show her immense talents as a performer.

Check it out here: https://illuminatihotties.bandcamp.com/album/kiss-yr-frenemies

PS

Not Scientists are an indie-punk band from Lyon, France that have been going since 2014. Golden Staples is the band’s second full-length. I will admit I’m not particularly aware of their earlier stuff, but I understand that it was more straightforward melodic punk or pop-punk, whereas Golden Staples takes a turn towards indie-punk or post-punk. Although there is an indie or post-punk feeling throughout, it does still retain a pop-punk sense of melodies and the hooks, particularly in the choruses, are pretty big and have sing-a-long qualities. Broadly, Golden Staples is ‘fun’, catchy and clean-sounding, in a mid-late ‘00s radio indie-rock way.

For me, Not Scientists immediately bring to mind late-era Green Day or the newer Blink 182 stuff. Tracks like “Perfect World” or “Sky on Fire” would have fit in well on Dos, for instance, or maybe California. Are these lame reference points? Perhaps, but the songwriting, vocal stylings and production that Not Scientists have gone for really do feel like a ‘00s mainstream pop-punk band in a transition period and that is attempting to expand on their sound, or perhaps even one of those bands’ side projects. Golden Staples has the garage-y, echo-y and playful elements of The Network, as well as the punchiness, clean production and ‘big’ choruses of +44.

“Paper Crown” recalls Underclass Hero– era Sum 41 (!), thinking about both the melodies and the songwriting stylings: “And now they call me king of nothing/I think I knew it all along”. The whole of ‘king of nothing’ trope also is reminiscent of Wavves “King of the Beach”. Indeed, the title track also feels like a Wavves off-cut and the whole record has a somewhat ‘cool’, late ‘00s indie rock vibe going on. Although I’ve bombarded you with mainstream pop-punk references, I get the impression that Not Scientists are going for more of a Cloud Nothings/Wavves sound. I love Cloud Nothings, but Golden Staples lacks the depth and nuances of what Cloud Nothings can produce. The songwriting is generally fine on this record, I guess, but in a similar way to latter-day Green Day or Wavves, the lyrics can feel vacuous and contrived, as if picked from a text book on ‘pop-punk anthems for a disenfranchised youth”. Shrug.

Check it out here: https://notscientists.bandcamp.com/

DB

Hey, it’s Manchester/Bolton pop-punkers Don Blake’s eventual follow-up to 2015’s Pocket Universe, a record that I liked in large parts, but also felt included a fair bit of filler. I feel that Don Blake have developed quite significantly since that record and their 2nd LP Tough like Diamonds more or less picks up where last year’s ‘Blake District’ EP left off, although there is nothing quite as distinct or memorable as “A Broken Baritone”. With 12 songs in 25 minutes, you are in classic fast-paced Ramones-y pop-punk territory here, with hooks not short in supply

Lead singer Joe’s super-harmonic and ‘soft’ vocals (for a punk band) are pretty distinct and help Don Blake stand out from the Ramones clones. As such, they recall the melodies of Cincinatti’s Team Stray at times (at least their first album), or Masked Intruder, without the schtick, but with the speed of Teenage Bottlerocket or The Copyrights. I have always found the vocals on Don Blake intriguingly melancholic, too. When Joe sings about something super relatable (and that’s most of the time) or taps into broader anxieties, it doesn’t half send a shiver down your spine and I think it’s the vocals that do it. Take a stand-out line from “The Rational Nihilist” for instance: “The fundamental goodness of humanity is hanging by a splintering thread”.

Don Blake sing passionately about mental health and anxiety issues and, in that sense, they do remind me somewhat of The Murderburgers: fast-paced, catchy pop-punk that gets to grips with everyday mental anguish. “Chemicals” stands out as an up-tempo ear worm that contemplates medical solutions to mental health issues. More broadly though, Don Blake tend to sing about everyday worries and anxieties and the time wasted investing in these. This is most evident on “Wasting Away” that is surely the highlight of Tough Like Diamonds: a track that has the lyrical self-deprecation and gang vocal harmonies that suggest The Copyrights or Houseboat and a simple but devastating chorus: “So I wait and I worry/I’m wasting away”. “One Trick Pony” later continues this theme: “Spent 10,000 hours worrying/One day now, I will solve everything”.

Broadly speaking, songwriting-wise, Don Blake have improved immeasurably since their early stuff. They always had the melodies, but they are now writing the tunes to go with them. Near enough every song on Tough Like Diamonds is hook-filled, anthemic and resides in your ear for a good while after. A ‘proper’, timeless pop-punk band that would fit in as well in the ‘90s Lookout! scene as today’s. One of the top 5 pop-punk bands going in the UK right now, I’d say (PM me for the other 4).

Check it out here: https://donblake.bandcamp.com/

DB

This punk band from Edmonton, Alberta released their newest album Blurry Photos on Vancouver based label Rain City. Inspired by the Lillingtons, Descendents , downstroking Lookout Records and Sci-fi movies they have made quite a catchy record. This album is pretty much punk to the bone and I can hear a lot of interesting sounds from the past in the skeleton of their work. For some reason, Ryley Conroy’s vocals remind me of Teenage Bottlerocket’s Ray Carlisle and therefore I can’t help but thinking of TBR each time I hear this album. However, I find The Nielsens a lot more interesting than TBR. Sometimes I get the feeling that the band tries to either be straight up pop punk (in songs like “Waiting” and “Casserole”), making them sound a lot more like TBR, but other times the Ray Carlisle-esque vocals mix with 80s hardcore, which to me seems to also be a huge inspiration for this band. “Challenger” is to me the lovechild between Teenahe Bottlerocket and early Replacements, with Agent Orange or Adolescents backup vocals. “Elm St.” has a riff that reminds me of the Offspring or the Didjits and, at the same time, I feel like I’m being transported to the early 80s in LA or that I’m on the set of Repo Man. The opening track sets the time machine to ten years later. It feels like the mainstream era of punk rock in 1994 and it also reminds me a bit of the Offspring (but not in a bad way, if there’s a positive way to be compared to the Offspring, this is it!) and Green Day. I also hear some Turbonegro influences in there. “Hot Snakes” sounds like the odd mixture of pre-Mommy’s Little Monster Social D and Anti Flag. I don’t know if that actually sounds like a good thing when I describe it either, but it’s a great song and it makes me jump around like a raving madman. I hope the Nielsens will excuse my terrible reference points, but the music on “Crystal Lake” sounds like it could be on one of the Uno, Dos or Tre Green Day albums, and be the best song, but the melody has the singalong quality of the Copyrights or Dear Landlord.

Most of the time, the Nielsens play fast paced punk rock with hardhitting drums, bass and distorted guitars, but on “A.A.S” there’s something that sounds like a keyboard that sounds rad! I also like the tambourine attack on the more downbeat “51”. The lyrics are often related to space and horror movies, but “She’s Not Coming Back” echoes the pessimism of the Riverdale’s “She’s Gonna Break Your Heart”. It’s also the most generic song on the album, but its catchy chorus caught me off guard and it’s a great track, albeit a little long. “Guantanamo” takes up an important issue about torture and treatment of detainees. The song itself reminds me of early Parasites. I feel like this album is a breath of fresh air in punk rock. It has a tendency to sound very old, but also quite modern at the same time and the listeners will be brought on a history lesson in punk rock as well getting sounds that are fresh! I would even say that the sound of the album borders on timeless and I have a feeling it will age very well. The pop punk sounds and the 80s hardcore sounds are contrasts that tries to tear the songs to each side and this tension makes the album really energetic and interesting.

Check it out here: https://thenielsens.bandcamp.com/

RH