Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

On Beneath the Pines, The Creeps complete the transition from early ‘00s, Lillingtons-esque, horror pop-punk band to self-reflective, mid-tempo pop-punk band having an existential crisis. On 2008’s Lakeside Cabin, The Creeps had a kind-of schtick about a stalker/serial killer dude roaming his way around the city. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way; Lakeside Cabin is a fucking cool and memorable pop-punk record, but it is escapist in a way that Beneath the Pines is not. To be fair, the personal anxieties and crises present on the newer Creeps stuff was always there: these just tended to be more hidden behind layers of horror-based narratives. The Creeps were never a silly or one-note pop-punk and I think it is that has allowed them to naturally grow and move beyond a horror schtick.

I read an interview with singer and songwriter Skottie Lobotomy recently in which he downplayed the value of melodies outside of vocal melodies. The Creeps have always evidenced strong vocal melodies, but, more than ever, that can be heard on Beneath the Pines. Some of the choruses on the record stick in your head for days and just beg to be sung along: “Staring Me Down”, “Bottom of Things” and “Scared” serve up some fine, hook-filled treats, just for starters. The earworm-y melodies form part of a gloomy and almost gothic feel, in kind of a similar way to the new Lillingtons LP does. It is pop-punk, but not as we know it, son: it suggests a songwriter who has been brought upon The Cure and downcast ‘90s indie as much as The Ramones. Compared to previous efforts, The Creeps’ musical returns are more spacious, reverb-y and slowed-down, allowing the space necessary for Skottie’s memorable vocals to breathe and come to the fore. “Scared” is a great example of that twisted, gloomy version of pop-punk, nipping along at a breezy, mid-tempo pace and placing emphasis on Skottie’s vocals (“Just lately, I’ve been thinking about death”) that requires full sing-a-long. Some of the tracks pick up the pace somewhat, but this is no Ramonescore.

Beyond the Pines builds upon 2014’s Eulogies and, in some ways, picks up where it left off, with its recollections of mental torturing and anxieties, but while Eulogies retained a ‘psychological horror’ element to it, acting as an alternative, pop-punk soundtrack to The Shining or something, Beneath the Pines is as honest and ‘real’ as The Creeps have been. They have peeled back the layers, with Skottie suffering from a full-on existential crisis. He is getting busy at the ‘bottom of things’. Though never explicitly saying so, the lyrics suggest anxiety, depression, addiction and a general downtrodden mental state. Exhibit A is this gem from “Bottom of Things”: “Eye contact- I practice everything/Except sleeping and I don’t do that much these days” or Exhibit B on “Low”: “Quiet, lonely, yeah/I wouldn’t have it any other way”. While the old stuff was great, the lyrics on Beneath the Pines are a million times more relatable, as Skottie’s ‘voice’ comes to the surface.

More than a tale of mental anguish and distress though, Skottie questions everything about himself, why he thinks the way he does and more broadly the human condition. This is a somewhat high-concept album that gets to grips with the ‘point of it all’ and what will become of us all. The existential stuff comes to the fore towards the end of the album, I guess. On “Bodies”, Skottie sings about humans being “such beautiful acts of betrayal”. In this song, while the other person is checking their phone and ‘worried about girls’, Skottie is fixated upon the bigger questions, like the fragility of everything. It’s a fascinating song that produces these memorable lines:

“It’s not the tightest ship/In fact there are soles/ You said “you’re bleeding from the lip”/ I thought, “it’s spilling from my soul”.

If there is a line of thinking that seems frequently present on Beneath the Pines, it’s a fear, not of death, but the degradation of the human mind and soul: “if there is something to fear, it’s that I’ll silently fade away”. It’s a somewhat different angle, but as on Eulogies, the fear of losing one’s mind, spirit and thoughts is prominent on the record. Literally and thematically, the album culminates with the fantastic “Fall”. Here, Skottie brings it together to suggest that we are all on a continual decline and are left with only our memories in the end. This is where the ‘pines’ come in, representing Skottie’s childhood memories:

“I fear we’re all just fated to these capsules of time/Like memories of pure bliss beneath these sky tall pines/And either that’s all that’s left or even those leave our minds/And then we all fall down/And then we all fall”.

The ’pines’ represent Skottie’s childhood, but these anchor the bigger conceptual ideas to something grounded to which we can all relate. What are your pines? I hate to describe a record as ‘introspective’ because it makes me think of some shitty singer-songwriter or something, but Beneath the Pines really does represent some fascinating navel-gazing and self-reflection on life, death and everything in between, backed by some of the highest-quality melodic punk I have heard in a while.

Check it out here: https://thecreeps.bandcamp.com/album/beneath-the-pines

DB

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This gang is from Leeds, UK and as far as I know has no relation to the 90s power pop band Jellyfish. Their Facebook page describe them as punk and folk, while their Bandcamp page adds reggae to the mix. I can’t hear any reggae on this album! The album consists of 9 tracks, opening with “Spokesdog”, a folk punk song with an angry punk voice and somewhat similar to early Against Me!, and the lyrics are hard to make out. The album ends with the title track “Long in Winters” and it’s slower and I would almost say it sounds a bit like Bright Eyes and it ends the album on a very good note. “Long in winters, short in years” is a pretty good line.

In between we find plenty of more Against Me! sounding songs like “Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peas” (amusing title by the way) and “Reading List”, which has a nice melodic guitar in the background that adds an extra touch and the production is particularly great in that song, as well as the vocal harmonies. There’s also a fiddle, I think! “Graveyard” has a more Celtic sound and lots of whoahs “The Shakes” has an interesting bassline that sounds very steady, for a lack of a better word. My favorite song is probably “Social Smoker”. It’s a good song, and it’s self-deprecating. With lines like “you’re a social smoker, I’m a social waste of space”. It kind of sounds like a Brian Fallon song, but the melody sort of reminds me a bit of Bob Dylan’s “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts”. “Comics” sounds like the usual angry punk with an acoustic guitar and then the bass and kind of cool drums come in. Usually these angry punk folks with acoustic guitars sing about changing the world or getting drunk, but this guy sings about comic books!

It’s pretty clear to me that these people know how to play their instruments. The Against Me! influence is quite obvious to me, so if you like early Against Me! there’s a chance you’ll love this. Sometimes there are elements that remind me of Frank Turner. There are some strong tunes on this album and some really great song titles, too bad no one remembers song titles anyway.

RH

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

A little over a year ago I went to a show to see friends’ bands play a show. Also on the bill was a touring band I had never heard of. They were The Penske File, from the suburbs of Toronto, and they completely blew me away. The band puts on a damn joyful and energetic live show, and I was impressed, so much so that I purchased their sophomore album, “Burn Into The Earth right then and there.” It’s hard to translate that live energy onto vinyl, but The Penske File do it, and their records are just as exciting as the live show. So imagine my anticipation when I heard a new album and tour were coming! The new album, “Salvation,” is everything I could have hoped for and more. It has the same big anthemic sound I remember, an amazing feat for a three-piece. The performances of the songs are laden with emotion and excitement, and the joy to be playing music that these three young Canucks feel is palpable.

The album begins with what is likely going to end up as one of my favorite songs of the year, “Kamikaze Kids.” It’s a surprising departure in style from typical Penske File songs, in that it’s got tons of jangle in the guitar. The song seems to be an anthem to living in the moment, especially when you’ve maybe forgotten how to do that for awhile and come back to the realization that yesterday is gone, tomorrow isn’t here yet, and now is all we have. “So let’s live while we can / And we’ll die when we do,” declares the chorus. Happiness doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, either. “So let me dance like the fly, around the porch light / The 40-watt thrill, it is ours tonight.” Happiness is something that we create from within.

Another departure from the usual Penske File formula is “Last Chance,” a track that takes inspiration from the early days of rock and roll. It uses the bluesy chord progression typical of early rock music, and it has the same raucous feel of a Chuck Berry or Jerry Lee Lewis tune. “American Basements” is a hymn to the DIY life and basement shows, Travis Miles’ harmonica giving it a bit of the twangy feel of a road song, traveling the back roads, going from place to place, the road urging us on. And though these basements are full of “bent and battered teens and twenty-somethings” and “on the fence guitars and cellphones” it’s OK. “There’s nothing to fix here, it’s the way they want to be, wrapped up in some perfect tragic poetry.” But as bare and dim as these basements may seem to the observer, “There’s more here than you know in these little American basements” the chorus tells us. It’s the closest The Penske File ever gets to a ballad, and it night even be called a sort of love song.

Of the songs that are more standard Penske File fare, I think “Come What May” may be my favorite. It’s got a huge expansive feel, and it’s the song for and about us all, “the booze hounds and hell seekers,” the “heels and tiaras, “ and the “oddballs and the eight balls.” There’s a joker and a prom queen, and a suicide king, and a handful of misfits. And it’s about how we find ourselves in the midst of all of this and sing Hallelujah!

Hallelujah, indeed, for the return of The Penske File on vinyl for the first time in three years! Let’s hope it’s not that long until the next LP.

PS

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

Whoa! This is a debut LP that sounds like it comes from a seasoned band that’s been around for years! The music is incredibly tight and the song writing is top notch. While the overall feel is one that would be right at home on a label like Fat Wreck Chords, I hear more interesting influences than a broad categorization like that would lend itself to. I hear Rocket From the Crypt influences here in the driving guitar sounds. The band seems able to shift from a hard-edged grinding feel to a more melodic poppy feel on a dime, and then back again. Blended into this are vocals that are so full of snot that it would drive an otolaryngologist mad. Listen to “Gift Shop,” for instance. It starts out making you think it’s going to be a typical pop punk track, but after the first 30 seconds, the song shifts from poppy to harder and edgier without skipping a beat. The last 45 seconds of the song slow the tempo toward a grungier feel, while always maintaining a strong sense of melody. The angular changes and slower tempo of “Phantom Limbs” are another example, especially in the descending chords of the short chorus.

A couple of songs that are a little different than the others include “Thoughts and Prayers,” which, after a raucous couple of minutes, closes with a gorgeous acoustic and electric guitar playing together with gruff vocals and harmonizing angelic backing vocals. “Modern Red Scare Blues” which adds in some fun guitar play in the chorus, a bit of a breather from the wall of guitar power. And “Ringer” has all the power, but it’s super fast and has pop hooks for days.

If this is the band’s debut LP, I can’t wait to hear what they do next!

PS

Check it out here: https://debtneglector.bandcamp.com/releases

Four songs of damn fine poppy hardcore punk from Melbourne, Australia. The title track decries the intolerance of those who are so far to the left of the political spectrum that they wrap around and become fascists themselves – the ones who are intolerant of dissent, the ones who seem to thrive on feigned outrage, the ones who fail to live in the real world. The song makes a point to declare that it’s not that they don’t see a need for change, and indeed, they’re working toward elimination of fascism and inequality – but they have to live in the real world. “Atrophy” is an ode to how shitty things are and how they keep getting worse. “Victim” is a super-fast track that barely gives you time to breath! It speaks to how our progress toward more equality in the world seems to have not just halted, but regressed. The closer on this four-song EP is “Millions of Dead Pacifists,” and it confuses the fuck out of me, given the first track. It decries the “peace and love” liberals as weak, declaring that “I got my baseball bat and a suitcase of Soros cash, I got a pack of friends who aren’t afraid to break some fucking glass.” So violence and intolerance is the answer? It almost sounds like a right-wing parody, especially the reference to billionaire George Soros, who the right-wing conspiracy nut jobs claim is funding the far left. Musically, this record is pretty brilliant. Lyrically it’s a bit schizophrenic.

PS

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

I have been aware of Midwestern pop-punkers The Raging Nathans for a while, but never properly checked them out. Sounds like I’ve been missing out! Their debut LP Cheap Fame is absolute gold. It combines Lookout! style blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em melodies with a punchier and meatier melodic punk sound. Raging Nathans meet the sweet point between say The Queers and Dillinger Four. There is a snarl and bitterness here that has become prevalent in modern melodic punk. Indeed, the speed, intensity and relentless bitternes on Cheap Fame recalls lead singer Josh Goldman’s other band The Dopamines. The gang vocal choruses, everyman songwriting and crunchy melodies also bring to mind The Copyrights or Rational Anthem, especially on tracks such as “B1505” or “Circling the Drain”.

At the same time, fans of ‘90s-era and The Queers or early Green Day lovers are going to be more than satisfied with the huge hooks and ear-worm-y choruses on offer on Cheap Fame (the album artwork is indeed drawn by Insomniac artist Winston Smith). The more traditional pop-punk fans can pogo along to tracks like the early ‘Weasel-esque “Teenage Amnesia” or The Murderburgers-y (How to Ruin Your Life-era, obvs) “Brain is Floating”. “CTRL+ALTRIGHT+DEL” recalls the hooks and pace of early Down by Law. My favourite track is probably “Sucker Punch” though, which is a heart-of-sleeve, chug-a-thon that declares, “life is one long panic attack and series of sucker punches”. It would fit right into place on Dream Homes. As the lyrics on “Sucker Punch” would suggest, the mood on Cheap Fame is somewhat downcast, to contrast with the breezy melodies (as most of the best pop-punk does, amirght?), getting to grips with anxiety, questioning if you are a ‘good man’, feeling like ‘circling the drain’ and ‘lonesome in the ocean’. One of the obvious highlight lyrics is on closer “Holding it in” which kind of brings the whole thing together: “the light at the end of the tunnel is just an oncoming train”. I doubt I’ll find a better line in 2018.

Fans of sadsack pop-punk, come here and get your fix.

Check it out here: https://theragingnathans.bandcamp.com/album/cheap-fame

DB

Harker are an indie-punk band from Brighton that clearly love The ’59 Sound. Probably a bit too much. No Discordance, the band’s first LP, is very much indebted to The Gaslight Anthem, The Menzingers, The Loved Ones and other fans of plaid shirts and big hearty choruses. Every track on this thing can be pictured as the soundtrack for a group sing-a-long in a basement showered by beers and lit up by “300 cigarettes”. No Discordance is oh-so very poignant and bittersweet. All of this is no bad thing in itself, but soon enough, the heart-on-sleeve charm becomes schtick and far too by-the-book. A little like Beach Slang, Harker are trying way too hard to fit into a particular profile. Even the artwork looks like a rip-off of On the Impossible Past. The songwriting is not actually too bad, especially on “Plague Your Heart”, but too often, the age-old tropes of ‘wanting to get out of town’, of ‘sticking with your friends’ and of ‘driving at night’ (oh wait, there is actually a song called “Drive at Night”) rear their ugly head.

I’m not against this sub-genre of punk rock by any means (contrary to what I may have suggested earlier, I enjoy The 59 Sound quite a bit) but it is one of the most difficult to pull off well. There are also difficulties in keeping the listener’s attention. Too often, the songs on No Discordance meld into one another and can be barely distinguished, amidst the guitar solos, gang vocals and lyrics like “we’re going to wreck this car until the wheels fall off with ‘Heartbreaker’ on side two while I fall in and out of love with you”. As I said, there are moments that suggest that Harker have something more original and substantial going on, but for the most part, they fall back on cliched, Fallon-inspired ‘poetry’ and melodies.

Check it out here: https://harker.bandcamp.com/album/no-discordance

DB

Capturing the zeitgeist, or the current concerns and contemplations of the day in a punk album in a way that feels organic and not corny or fudged is not an easy task. So, I’m pleased to say, after getting around to finally properly listening to it, POST- is definitely successful in this regard. In many ways, it is a record that builds on WORRY and Jeff’s previous songwriting nous, culminating to generate a more expansive and more ‘now’ record. POST- is an album that concerns itself with the state of the US in 2018 and the socio-political milieu that could allow Trump to be elected. As with his other work, Jeff contemplates these concerns through his own anxious and insecure perspective. I mean, his whole career (from the Bomb the Music Industry! through to his solo stuff) seems to have been building towards the dreamy chant on “USA”: “We’re tired and bored/we’re tired, we’re bored!”

Sonically, POST- largely picks up where WORRY left off, with Jeff pulling out his career-best scrappy, rough-around-the-edges and sing-a-long pop-punk. If anything, this record is even scrappier and more rough-around-the-edges. Nevertheless, it is more expansive, too, with Jeff writing two super-long efforts that book-end the record, with one working a lot better than the other, for me. Opener “USA” is 7 minutes-plus and is all-over-the-place, but in a good way; it aptly sets the tone for what is to come and acts as his address to the nation: “Dumbfounded, downtrodden and dejected/ Crestfallen, grief-stricken and exhausted/ Trapped in my room while the house was burin’ to the motherfuckin’ ground”. With the first lyrics of the record, the central themes of the album are already on display: the ennui, anxiety and exhaustion felt following last year’s elections. POST- is as much about ‘worrying’ (about the US, about your community, about your mental state) as the previous record.

“Let Them Win”, on the other hand, doesn’t really work half as well as the opener. I mean, doing longer, more expansive tracks like “USA” is cool, but I feel the 11-minute plus “Let Them Win” is overkill, especially when it’s primary lyrical take-away is simply “lets gather as a community and be stronger than ‘them’ (i.e. those that voted for Trump)”. It all builds up to a similar choral chant as found on “USA” (“we’re not gonna let them win!”) and then goes all synth-y and weird. The sentiment is fine, I guess, but you don’t get the sense that it deserves 11 minutes of your time; what’s more, it ensures that the album ends a little too cleanly and on an uncharacteristically and uncritically positive note: like, yeah, you know all that whining I just did about how fucked up the country is and how anxious I am about the whole thing, forgot about that, because we’re gonna win in the end anyway!!

Elsewhere though, I basically enjoy everything. “TV Stars” is a masterclass in how to sneak an ‘80s piano ballad into a punk album: it’s like a frayed-edged Billy Joel with visceral social community. Jeff has not been unknown to do somewhat theatrical, super poppy stuff like this before, but this definitely stands out on the album. Its chorus is at once simple and gripping: “TV stars don’t care about who you are”. Meanwhile, “Yr. Throat” is an intense, fast-paced and exuberant melodic punk banger, with a chorus that sticks in the head like nothing else on the album (“what’s the point of having a voice? When it gets stuck inside your throat”). This one is about Jeff’s simple desire to escape all the bullshit he is surrounded with and the difficulties that come with that. “Powerlessness” is also the kind of tune that Jeff excels at, a pop-punk earworm with anxiety-riddled lyrics: “Meet me at the Polish bar/ I’ll be the one staring at my phone,
/shaking like a nervous kid/ absolutely terrified of being alone”.

POST- sounds like the record that Jeff has been trying to make for a while. I don’t know if I prefer it to WORRY but it certainly feels like a culmination of his previous two records that has emerged at a time of ‘peak-anxiety’ for Americans. He offers something quite unique in the current punk scene: a voice. Even if it does get stuck inside his throat.

DB

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

I become aware of Yr Poetry last year with the release of the ‘One Night Alive’ EP and pretty instantly dug it. I mean, that is not surprising considering that I am fairly big fan of Alexei (guitar) and Junior’s (drums) ‘other’ band, Johnny Foreigner. The ‘Lost Boys’ EP is part 2 of a 3-part EP collection, a “are-we-good-enough-to-get-paid-for-this?” experiment, according to their bandcamp. Instantly, you get those JoFo feels, when the fuzzy, math-y and crunchy guitars kick in on opener “Sons”, probably the highlight of the EP. You’ve got wooh-oohs, driving melodies and a fist-raised-in-the-air chorus; this is pop-punk magic. The lyrics are among the most memorable I’ve heard in recent times, with Alexei reflexively getting to grips with the gender make-up of the band’s audience and then relating that to music politics more broadly:

“And I know what yr thinking: Hark the hypocrites are singing
Saying “there’s too many boys in our bands” whilst adding two
If I can’t be the change then I’ll be the klaxon”

It’s a biting, critical and much needed take-down of the male dominated indie scene. “Sons” is probably enough to already make me name this my favourite EP of the year but the other songs are also not half bad. “I Swear I Swear I Swear (It’s All Bullshit)” is an exhilarating, fast-paced tune with an addictive chorus of sheer simplicity: It’s all bullshit, bullshit, bullshit…” (repeat ad infinitum). There is a sense of frustration and itchiness to change things, of the need for that “klaxon”. On “The Whole Tooth”, the cynicism and ennui in Brexit Britain is brought to the forefront, calling for people to rise above that, to “Be a gap in the crowds/Be a plot in the ground/Be a break in the clouds/Be lost and get found”.

The vibe changes quite considerably on the space-y, slowed-down indie on closer “Dads” though, a song about Dads dying and looking back at your youth, thinking how you were with your Dad then, revolving around an ‘electricity-based’ narrative. It’s an emotional, raw and super interesting track that makes you feel simultaneously sad, uncomfortable and also want to laugh. The lyrics hit quite hard, but have sharp wit to them, as JoFo always have. It’s the classic tragedy/comedy thing. Seriously, one of the most fascinating and exciting new-ish indie bands out there today. I’m waiting for the “mums” follow-up on the next EP.

DB

Check it out here: https://ibelieveinyrpoetry.bandcamp.com/album/lost-boys

I’ve heard the Shell Corporation and seen them live before. Hell, they played my birthday show a few years back. And I’ve always thought they were good, but goddamn! This is one hell of a record! It is unrelenting in its power and energy, expanding beyond the band’s well-known and well-tread territory of melodic punk. The opening track, “Kumbaya,” is harder, darker, and edgier than anything I’ve ever heard from The Shell Corporation before, and is a scathing commentary on the current state of American society and politics, the massive divide tearing the country apart, and those who are calling for those on the left to just be quiet and accept the “new normal.” This indeed is not the time for Kumbaya, as the song’s last line cries out. This whole album is an angry clarion call to us all. Songs reference climate change, the economic divide between those who own everything and the rest of us, the seeming hopelessness of the situation, and the way we purposely blind ourselves to the evils in the world that we’re contributing to. While a good portion of the album does reflect the style of music-making The Shell Corporation has perfected, with multi-part harmonies over tough melodic punk, they go outside these boundaries on some tracks. I love “Fighting For,” a song with a thinner arrangement, just vocalist Jan Drees’ vocals without the harmonies, and more of a hard indie rock feel than punk. The song is about how people go about their lives without ever questioning what they’re doing or why, or who really reaps the benefits of their work. “Poor Devils” follows right after, and owes its debt to 70s hard rock. It’s got that angry yet psychedelic feel to it, like some of the great protest songs from that era.

Of the more traditional Shell Corporation tracks, “Not Funny” stands out for its lyrical content, warning people to wake the fuck up and stop “taking selfies” and “posting memes as we drown and our lips turn blue.” People are likened to Charlie Brown, forever trying to kick the football and ending up flat on our backs, and eating the same old shit every day and coming back for me. “Waters” stands out for its amazing melodic lines, sounding bright and angry at the same time. “They Live” speaks to the revival of open hatred and bigotry in the country in the era of Trump, and how the traditional liberal sentiment of “when they go low we go high” doesn’t cut it, because “a razor wit doesn’t win knife fights.”

The closing track, “One Last Thing,” is amazing, but feels out of place here. It shares more in common with the grunge greats than anything from the punk scene, and it’s an angry anti-love song to an ex who fucked things up, rather than a political commentary. Yet it’s still a great track.

Four years after their last release, The Shell Corporation is back, stronger than ever, and pissed off as hell. This album will surely find a place on many year-end “best of” lists.

PS

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