Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Opening with the 2 minute-long, dreamy, somewhat ethereal “Untitled”, with the only lyrics being “I know it’s wrong, but I’ve thought about it”, Taco Hell suggest a more laid-back and experimental emo album. However, over the rest of the album, things are more akin to what was found on their ‘Retainer’ EP: anthemic, gritty, yet earworm-y ‘sad’ punk. That’s not to say that Bad at Being Average is not experimental or dynamic though; far from it. Building on their early releases, Taco Hell really pushed the boundaries on this, their first and final LP. Yep, that’s right, if you didn’t know, Taco Hell have called it a day after three years as a band, with a couple of members leaving the country, but they bow out with a hell of an album.

So, back to the sound: ‘sad-punk’ does pretty accurately describe Taco Hell’s sound, on the boundary between modern ‘revival’ emo and Fest-esque ‘gruff’ punk, recalling the likes of Jeff Rosenstock, Joyce Manor and Tiger’s Jaw. I mean, the latter comparison is perhaps the most apt, with harmonious male-female dual vocals present throughout Bad at Being Average. But their songwriting also fairly neatly fits into the UK’s indie-punk scene, alongside bands such as Caves, Doe and (the dearly departed) Bangers. Basically, Taco Hell combine a lot of shit I like and craft something that is totally their own sound. I was pretty into the ‘Retainer’ EP, particularly the catchy-as-fuck “Baby Teeth”, but for me, Bad at Being Average is where they really found their own sound.

So, what do I like the most from the album? Well, “Same City” has to be up there as one of the album highlights, with its spaced-out verses, building up to a wonderfully catchy chorus. It is about considering re-connecting with someone you haven’t seen in ages: “do you still live in the same city that I do?”. I love its restraint and melodic poise, as well as its directness. For me, Taco Hell highlight that it’s 90% about good songwriting; sonically, these are generally fairly simple and direct tunes, but they work and, what’s more, they intrigue and invite further listens. For instance, the chorus in “Gang 2: Electric Boogaloo” is just great, with lead singer Joe’s cries of “We are the…same”, backed up by bassist/vocalist Eleanor’s back-up vocals of “you know, we are the same”. It is simple, but it really works. The other album standout is “Twin Peaks References & Depression”. It has a soft/loud dynamic thing going on, culminating in a chorus that manages to make “David Lynch!” stick in your head. It reminds me a fair bit of early Bangers and Apologies, I Have None: it’s gruff, deeply personal and from the heart. As are all the lyrics on Bad at Being Average, to be fair.

The lyrics on the record tend to be self-analytical and somewhat self-deprecating, but not in an overbearing way. I like to think that a lot of the album fairly accurately touches up on growing as a 20-something in the North of England, without a penny to rub together, but having a great time nonetheless: “This is arguably poverty, but I don’t hate it; No, I don’t hate it”. That line reminds me of a Copyrights lyric from their split with the Methadones (“Flooded Basements, Abandoned Beaches”) that I have always loved: “Were parents right when they said, with money comes freedom?/ As the bills pile up, I’m inclined to believe them/ But the beaches and basements are flooded in my mind/ Never been more care free than when I didn’t have a dime”. Being broke obviously fucking sucks, and let’s not romanticise it, but there is a level of freedom that comes with that way of living.

So, yeah, Taco Hell’s last ever released song is called “Goodbye” and they have just completed their last-ever tour as a band. It is a huge shame considering the potential they demonstrated during their time as a band, but let’s not focus on that and instead value what we’ve got: an inventive, catchy and dynamic album from one of the best bands I’ve heard from the UK punk scene in the last few years. If somebody from outside the UK is reading this and wants a good example of what is going on here, Bad at Being Average is not a bad place to start at all.

DB

Check the album out here: https://tacohellband.bandcamp.com/

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Slumberland Records was founded in 1989 the Washington, DC area many years ago, and they were one of the top champions of indie pop through the heyday of the nineties, releasing records by bands like Velocity Girl, Whorl, The Ropers, Honeybunch, and more. The label eventually moved across the country to Oakland, California and I lost track of what they were doing, but it’s great to see they’re still active, putting out beautiful, jangly music. Gorgeous vocals duel over sweet melodies performed with just the right mix of noise and jangle in the guitars. Favorite tracks: “Less Than Perfect” is prettiest tracks on the record, with the best chorus, the jingliest guitars, and the most beautiful vocals. “Keep In Touch” is right up there, with dreamy guitars and vocals that wind around each other. I also love “Bad Year,” a sad sounding song with depressing lyrics. “I Only Dance When I Want To” has a pretty Stereolab-like chorus that makes me smile. And I’m listing lots of the songs as my favorites, so suffice it to say that every track is quite enjoyable.

PS

Check it out here: http://ilovealcopop.awesomedistro.com/products/605351-the-spook-school-could-it-be-different-lp-cd-be-different-shirt-preorder

Big sing-along pop punk that will have you punching your first upward while your other arm wraps around your mate’s neck, your hand clutching a pint of beer that’s sloshing all over as you shout out lyrics at the top of your lungs. The tracks are melodic, with the vocal lines gliding slowly over guitars that move at a more rapid pace. On some of the tracks, there’s even hints of jangle in those guitars. The overall sound reminds me of a blend of RVIVR and The Penske File. You get the explosive, emotive qualities of the Canadian band, with melodic lines that soar, ready for gang vocals, like Washington State’s finest. “Line ‘Em Up” is a favorite, for its moves back and forth between straight time and double time and its beautiful guitar embellishments. The gang vocals at the start of “More Colours” remind me a bit of one of the most underrated bands of all time, Gauge (the Chicago area early 90s band). “Hurting So Much It Laughs” is a simple song, but has a beautiful soaring melody, and the guitar embellishments in the bridge are, again, gorgeous. The album closes with “Sociopath’s Salute,” a perfect anthemic number to end on. This Bristol band has only done a short US tour, limited to the Southeastern states, leading up to 2017’s Fest, but I hope they make it to the West Coast of the USA, because this is a band that’s sure to be a lot of fun live.

PS

Check it out here: https://therunupuk.bandcamp.com/album/the-run-up

Review: Hightower- Club Dragon (Krod)

Posted: January 16, 2018 in Reviews

Hailing from Paris, France, Hightower is yet another band keeping the flames of 90’s melodic punk alive. The sound on these twelve tracks is consistently huge, with wide-open vocals and a massive wall of guitar. And that may be my biggest problem with the album. It’s too much, and much of it has the same sound. Those guitars are overwhelming to the extent that they become distracting. I think if the tone was cleaned up a bit or moved a little bit lower in the mix it would go a long way to making this less fatiguing to listen to. That’s not to say that the record is without redeeming value. The opening track, “Numero Uno,” moves effortlessly from a light acoustic intro to double-time skate punk, to slower melodic punk and back again. The loping feel to “The Party” is a nice change of pace from the more intense tracks. And the waltz-time “Hedonic Treadmill” generates its intensity less from speed and volume and more from a slower pace and allowing the vocals to shine through. As for the rest of the tracks, well, I just couldn’t get into them; It’s not that 90s melodic punk isn’t my favorite sound – it’s not, but there are bands that play the style that I really like a lot. The mix was just too noisy, and the band really doesn’t bring anything new to the genre.

PS

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

These Wicked Bears are from Salt Lake City and they play fast and catchy pop punk. I would file them under “shouty pop punk”. The album cover brings a smile to my face, like they are trying to sell me popsicles or soda.  Musically the album pretty much stays on track with the “shouty pop punk” sound. The songwriting reminds me of  Less Than Jake without the ska and a bit like Dan’s songs in Alkaline Trio and put through a “Make this an Against Me! Song” machine. They do sometimes stray from the formula and add some interesting stuff like the keyboards and synths in “No Vacancy”, the piano in “Cameron” and the organ in the acoustic track “Chattering Teeth”. Tuning Out is not the greatest album ever, but it works. My favorite song on the album is probably the last song “More Power”. It has a cool little solo and a good melody.  The band’s lyrics don’t seem to stick with me very easy except “we got robbed” from “We Got Robbed”. Tuning Out shows Wicked Bears as another band who seem like extremely competent performers, but they don’t necessarily stand out in the vast forest of pop punk bands that have grown over the years. However, if you enjoy a decent pop punk album, it’s worth checking out!

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

RH

So today, I’m reviewing a band from the East Bay. Hey…Wait? They’re actually from France! South Berkeley is just their name! “Tiny Rascals” is a single with one track called “Tiny Rascals”. The band writes in their description: “Strongly influenced by bands from late 90’s, we’d love to collide old school vibes with more modern and actual influences.” I definitely see what they’re going with here. The song starts up rather slow and it sounds like a mellower Alkaline Trio song or an early Blink-182 song. I really like the feeling in the song and to me the best sounding element is the bass guitar, it sounds great! There seems to be a Blink inspiration here. The drums are a bit too much for me, just like Travis Barker’s. I think production wise, there must’ve been some inspiration from John Feldmann and California-era Blink, but not as awful, I might add. I also think the vocals sound a bit contrived. Other bands that come to mind are MxPx and the Starting Line and I get an early 2000s vibe when I listen to this song, but it doesn’t sound as mainstream and polished as those bands. I think the song itself is pretty good and there’s something very dynamic about and it doesn’t just feel like it stands still like many pop punk songs, but I can’t really imagine how all the other South Berkeley songs sound like, or if “Tiny Rascals” is representative for what’s to come.

Listen here: https://krodrecords.bandcamp.com/track/tiny-rascals

RH

It is worth beginning this review with the admission that I am not a big fan of skate punk, or at least most of it! Being a pop-punk goof, I can get into the skate punk stuff that is more melodic and hook-filled, but don’t typically ‘get on’ with the more abrasive, metal-tinged skate punk. Paper Champ evidence both kinds of skate punk on this EP and so it is a bit of a mixed bag for me.

Paper Champ are a relatively new-ish melodic/skate punk band from Ipswich that are reminiscent of Pulley, Face to Face and No Use for a Name. This EP is very ‘90s skate-punk, most of which could have come out on a Fat comp. or something back in the day. UK skate punk bands from that era, such as Goober Patrol, can also be identified here: indeed, Goober Patrol’s Simon Sandall actually provides additional vocals on the record, as does Spoiler’s Dan Goatham. Generally, there is good energy on the EP, to ensure that Paper Champ’s rough-around-the-edges skate-punk doesn’t go stale. “Faith Costs” is a hard-hitting opener that grabs you from the get-go, reminding me of No Use For a Name, “Building Bridges” is more mid-tempo, gritty and Iron Chic-esque, while “Way Over the Line” is by far my favourite song on here: its melodies are superior to anything else on offer, with some super catchy lead guitars and an ear-worm-y, Lagwagon esque chorus that has the ‘pop-punk-iest’ subject matter: “What is the saying and how does it go?/Something about ‘Nice guys finish last’ or so I’m told”.

After “Way Over the Line”, things take a turn in a different direction, with “Stories From Around Campfires” indicating a harder, gritter sound, more akin to melodic hardcore than skate punk. I lose the interest towards the end of the EP somewhat; hence the ‘mixed bag’, but I enjoyed the EP overall and would definitely be intrigued to hear motre tracks from Paper Champ like “Way Over the Line”.

DB

Listen here: https://paperchampippo.bandcamp.com/releases

I recently reviewed the Teenage Gluesniffers split with fellow Italian band Cocks and enjoyed it a bunch; while this split with Chromosomes doesn’t reach quite the same heights, Teenage Gluesniffers nevertheless remain on form. These Milano punks take the better aspects of that Lookout! style pop-punk I obsess over: combining high-tempo punk rock urgency with Weasel-like hooks to draw you in. The two songs on offer here recall the melodies and song structures of The Murderburgers, with “The Mosh Pit and the Pendulum” sounding like it would have fit right in on How to Ruin Your Life. “No Decline, No Story!” is probably my favourite of the two: I love the way it combines intensity and grit with big hooks. The lyrics on this split leave a little to be desired, at least compared to the ‘Gluesniffers previous work (particularly the stuff about his colour being black felt a bit uninspired), but still, I enjoyed the two songs a bunch!

The flip slide of the split is from another Italian punk rock band, The Chromosomes, who, despite apparently having formed in 1993, I wasn’t previously aware of. In terms of the vocal melodies and the structure of the choruses, it’s very Manges-esque. This is no bad thing in itself. “Teach Me to Hold On” has some catchy, bouncy opening guitar leads that sound straight from a ‘90s pop-punk comp, while “I Was, She Was” is enjoyable enough, mid-tempo Ramonescore, with a memorable chorus. However, there is a sense that The Chromosomes don’t cover new ground here and there is the danger for these kinds of songs to be lost in the ether. Overall, though, an enjoyable comp, that highlights once again that Italy continues to be the leading light for ‘traditional’, straight-up pop-punk.

DB

Listen here: https://teenagegluesniffers.bandcamp.com/

It’s great to have ONSIND back. Following 2013’s Anaesthesiology, Martha (Nathan Stephens Griffin and Daniel Ellis’s other band) have released two stunning records. The pair have evidently been concentrating their efforts (both touring and recording wise) on Martha, but on We Wilt, We Bloom, ONSIND have never sounded so assured or focused. No longer do the duo solely write fiery and raw acoustic sing-a-longs (although that is there, too, worry not); there is all sorts of variety on show here, driven by the band’s decision to go ‘full-band and plugged-in on some songs. This means that the distinction that could be previously made between ONSIND and Martha is somewhat blurrier. A couple of tracks here could have basically been Martha tracks, showcasing those memorable hooks and melodies that are normally the indie-pop band’s forté. Notably, opener “Magnolia” recalls the romanticism and bittersweetness that tends to be reserved for Martha. A recent interview with the duo revealed that they often write the “sad political songs” for ONSIND and the “hopeful, happy love songs” for Martha. I mean, it’s interesting to think about the evolution of ONSIND and how decisions might be made over what is a Martha song and what is an ONSIND song (“Sectioned” was indeed previously a Martha song, but deemed ‘too heavy’), but ultimately, I think both of these bands are great and in their own right, too.

Nevertheless, the new ground that ONSIND cover on We Wilt, We Bloom is stark and fascinating: the garage rock, fast-paced ditty of “Huey Alabaster”, the scratchy indie rock of “Immature and the (totally unexpected) almost hardcore-ish punk of “Claimant”. The heavier, full-band songs bookend the album (opening and closing with the hook-filled indie-pop of “Magnolia” and “Sectioned” is genius and brings things full circle to an extent), but, in the centre of We Wilt is the more familiar, gutsy acoustic outpourings that ONSIND have always excelled at. As always, the pair are ready to critically engage with the current social and political state in the UK (and more broadly, too), and, of course, there’s plenty of recent activity to get to grips with.

Writing political songs is a delicate matter, but Onsind always seem to find the balance right and I think it’s partly through their strategy of ‘telling stories’. It brings a personal element into the political sphere that move songs beyond simply ‘angry protest songs’, something that Propagandhi have often excelled at. And I don’t think ONSIND’s songwriting and arguments has ever been as nuanced or resonant as it is on this record. Exhibit A for this on We Wilt, We Bloom is the sprawling, hard-hitting “Loyalty Festers” which unpacks nationalism and nationalist tropes (with Brexit obviously looming in the background), told through the sad tale of a young man becoming swept up by fascism (specifically the English Defence League):

“Widow’s Peak, Neck Tattoo/England belongs to you/ And all who show their pride in seven shades oh yeah/Empty words and empty gestures/That loyalty, it festers, it festers, it festers/ This is not what you were promised, Jerusalem.”

Reminiscent of a certain Mr. Bragg, this is a really affecting story about fascism (and relatedly racism) and about where it is coming from: it’s top-down, not bottom-up, and ONSIND here speak up for the communities in the UK who have been basically shat upon by successive Conservative governments and are now searching for somewhere to vent their rage and some direction. “Loyalty Festers” signals the cynical intent of fascist leaders to often exploit the alienation and lack of direction often felt by ‘left-behind’ communities. While, unlike on Anaesthesiology,  ONSIND do not explicitly critique the conservative government, its presence is nevertheless felt throughout We Wilt, We Bloom, whether it’s their blunt and compassionless policy on “Claimant” or role some of them played in spreading and perpetuating lies about migrants in the ‘leave’ campaign.

To sum up, then: ONSIND still write great social and political commentary and it’s probably better than it’s ever been on We Wilt, We Bloom, effectively and empathetically meshing the personal with the political, in a way that countless other bands struggle with. ONSIND have managed to expand the band’s sound, without compromising the core of their original appeal and values. There’s no wilting here, only blooming.

DB

Listen here: https://onsind.bandcamp.com/album/we-wilt-we-bloom

Roach, the first full-length from Manchester’s Aerial Salad, doesn’t re-invent the three-chord punk wheel by any means, but it does give it a good ol’ shake up and down. It’s got a youthful vigour and determination that reminds me why I fell in love with punk in the first place. This album just drips with energy; it’s insatiable, the kind that makes you think that anything is possible while this song is playing. Roach has the snarl, grit and sheer bloody-mindedness to appeal to fans of ’77 punk, as well as the melodies and charm to get those in on board who grew up with Lookout!-era pop-punk. It is largely a pop-punk record, I would say- although there are moments when it veers off course- and the comparisons to Green Day that have been banded about are kind of accurate. Aerial Salad are clearly Kerplunk-influenced, but unlike say Kimberly Steaks, who largely stuck to Green Day’s mid-tempo song structures, there is a lot more aggression and speed on Roach than Green Day ever really had. What is for sure is that Green Day’s youthful spirit, energy and enthusiasm from the early ‘90s is present on this record.

Lyrically, Aerial Salad deal mainly with depression and mental health issues, over high-octane, snotty pop-punk tunes- and in that way, are a little reminiscent of The Murderburgers. I mean, just listen to the lyrics on “97”, they really are quite shocking: “I just told my best friend I’m gonna kill myself/ It’s so easy now”. There is a significant level of despair on these songs, which is represented by the growly, desperate vocals. Most notably, this comes to the fore on “Alone Forever”, which yes, gets to grips with not wanting to be ‘alone forever’: the vocals really sound pained and desperate on this one. “Worst Case Ontario” is maybe my favourite track on this thing, in that it best marries the band’s energy/intensity with its hooks, but I do also appreciate the slower, ska-influenced tracks, too. On other records, these may be a distraction, but Aerial Salad make it work, particularly on “Check My Mind”, in which space is given for the lyrics to be really appreciated: “…no ambitions and no future plans/I stay the same, it’s fallen way out of my hands/ I stay the same, I cannot change, I cannot change”. Others have said these lines more eloquently, for sure, but if punk has taught us anything, it’s that things are best said when they are stripped bare. Roach is the answer to that ageing punk down the pub who refuses to believe that any decent punk records have come out since 1984.

DB

Check it out here: https://aerialsalad.bandcamp.com/album/roach