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This Birmingham band presents their debut EP featuring four songs of math-pop. There’s lots of flowing guitars that dance around in a sort of swirly way, plenty of tempo and time signature changes, and changes from quiet and delicate to loud and raucous. All in the same song! There’s also a bit of dream pop influence at play on some of the songs, with loads of reverb. Emotional vocal deliveries complete the package, with an incredible tonal range, spanning many octaves and feelings. I think what strikes me most are those dueling jazzy guitar riffs that toy around with each other, sometimes playing follow the leader, other times seemingly playing very different songs, but it all fits together.

I think that of the four tracks “Playfight,” is my favorite, as it best embodies the full range of characteristics of this band.  “Summertime” is a beautiful one, too, with an unorthodox waltz time for the opening section, then going into a more conventional loud indie sound in four/four time, then back and forth again. The guitar interplay is lovely, and the vocals are intense in places. The other two tracks are also similar in nature, and while I do like them and they are beautiful, there’s just something missing for me. All the swirling guitars can come off a bit contrived if overdone. And the guitar tones are perhaps a little too clean. Those vocals, though, do feel quite honest.

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

PS

Let’s be clear from the start. Nottingham’s Isaac aren’t breaking any new ground with “Let It Burn.” Their sound isn’t something unique that makes them stand out from the crowd. And, while there’s some variation in some of the songs, much of the album has a, shall we say, very consistent sound. I happen to like this sort of sound, personally, and though there are some problems with “Let It Burn,” overall it’s a decent listen.

The album starts out very promisingly, with “Hunger Pains,” perhaps the strongest track of the LP. A deeply fuzzy bass line introduces the track, then the guitar joins in with a simple line, and the drums give a bouncy beat. The track picks up with a strong riff, and then the vocals come in, the whole song having a texture very familiar to those who listen to bands with the post-emo sort of melodic indie-rock sound. “This Bitter Song” introduces some nice vocal harmonies, but from there things start to lose steam. “A Polish Cafe at Christmas” and “Lil Lord” have melodic lines that sound so similar that one would be excused for thinking the same song appeared twice on the same album. Most subsequent tracks fail to inspire, everything having nearly identical dynamic levels, tempos, mixes, and so on. A few of the songs in the latter half of the LP are a notch above the rest. “Wet Legs” has a stronger more dynamic feel to it than most tracks, and “Stiff Upper Lip” and “Fade Out” both have a nice bounce to the melody. But even there, the feeling of these tracks is just too similar.

At fourteen songs in thirty-five minutes, there’s a lot of sameness to wade through. This is something best taken in small doses in shuffle mode.

Listen here: https://circlehouserecords.bandcamp.com/album/let-it-burn

PS

Hey, so a new feature! Having both been born in 1989, me and Read Hard are going to talk about our favourite three records for each year since 1989. Despite not being actively aware or conscious of these records at the time, these are nevertheless the EPs, albums and 7″ which define ‘the years of our lives’…and so we begin….with the final year of the 1980s….

Read Hard’s Picks

1989 was an interesting year. It was the year I was born, for one. It was the year of the first Brazilian election in 29 years and the year that F.W. De Klerk became president in South Africa and the times of apartheid slowly ended. It was also the year the Berlin wall was torn down. There was no longer a West Germany and a DDR or a West-Berlin and East-Berlin. This happened on the 9th of November, about a month after I was born. So, this is not something I remember much of obviously. The day before I was born on the 9th of October, an alleged UFO landed in Voronezh in the Soviet Union (now Russia). The Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize that year. There were some great records released this year too, not that I remember any of those either. I’m gonna write about three of them. NOFX’s album S&M Airlines, Operation Ivy’s album Energy and Screeching Weasel’s EP “Punkhouse”.

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Operation Ivy-Energy

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It was first released on Lookout in March 1989 and later re-released on Tim Armstrong’s own Hellcat records. I was thinking of writing about it in my “Read Hard’s Pop Punk Picks” column, but I recently wrote about …and Out Come the Wolves, so it was fitting to write about Energy, as it is the best album from the year I was born. The band didn’t last very long and only put out one full length album. Matt and Tim from Rancid were members of the band. The singer Jesse Michaels later went on to start Common Rider and The Classics of Love. Energy perfectly mixes 80s hardcore with ska, making the way for the third wave of ska. I think there’s some Who-inspiration here too. The drummer was called Dave Mello. The first time I heard Op Ivy was when I was 14 and I heard the songs “Knowledge” (covered by anyone from Green Day to the Aquabats and Millencolin), “Unity” and “Bad Town”. The latter was cooler than any Rancid song I had ever heard and I discovered I really liked this band. I ended up finding the LP in Oslo and dreaded not buying it. I found it again in Camden Town in London and bought it! One of my finest investments!

What makes the album great for me, is that it sounds really low fi and noisy, but the songwriting and lyrics really make up for that, if that were a bad thing in the first place. The lyrics are often socio-political or philosophical. There are still love songs like “Bombshell” and songs about music and punk rock like “Sound System”, “Jaded” and “Artificial Life”, but most of the lyrics seem to be about violence and hatred and how to stand against violence and unite (“Take Warning”, “Bad Town” and “Unity”). “Smiling” is also a song that deals with gender roles in an intelligent way. They also do a cover of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walkin’”’ called “One of These Days” and it’s just the chorus repeated. “Freeze Up” shows a dystopic view of the world where elected politicians say their phony lines, but don’t offer solutions for the bleak future. The line “It’s 1989 take a look around” was changed from the original version. The album was originally recorded in 1988 at Gilman Street, but it didn’t sound quite right so they re-recorded it in Sound and Vision studios.

NOFX- S&M Airlines

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It was released on the 5th of September 1989 on Epitaph Records and produced by ER’s owner Brett Gurewitz. Fat Mike really wanted to take the band in a more melodic and Bad Religion inspired direction than the earlier NOFX stuff, so having Brett produce the album and other Bad Religion members do harmonics seemed perfect. Mike and Greg Graffin also do a duet on the album, a cover of “You Can Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac. This shows that Graffin was, and probably is, a way more skilled vocalist than Fat Mike. The album is probably the album with most collaborations between Fat Mike and Eric Melvin. It also was their first album with metal head Steve Kidwiller, making it a more metal-sounding album than any of their other records, with hair-metal riffs and solos. Their long hair also made them look like a metal band.

The album is lyrically very punny like most of Fat Mike’s lyrics. The titles shine with clever yet corny word play like “Day to Daze”, “Professional Crastination” (“We’re living in a procrastination!!!!!!”), “Drug Free America” and “You Drink, You Drive, You Spill”. The latter being about drinking and driving and how it’s not as bad as you think, unless you’re afraid of spilling your drink. The title track gives us a peak into one of Fat Mike’s hobbies that is BDSM and so does “Vanilla Sex”, that also mixes the theme of being into kinky shit and the moral majority and the government getting involved in people’s sex lives. The most serious song on the album “Jaundiced Eye” has always been one of my favorite Fat Mike lyrics and it deals with racism. The lyrics “Fascism racism all start up the same/ Stop feeding the fire, help put out the flame” and “All looks yellow to the jaundiced eye” made a huge impact on me as a kid. I bought the CD in Copenhagen, Denmark in October 2015, right before I turned 16. This was also the same holiday I bought Punk in Drublic! Though way too metal for my taste and with vocals that are too bad even for me, S&M Airlines really was the start of the NOFX we know today and it’s a pretty good album in spite of it all!

Screeching Weasel-Punkhouse

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It was released July 7th 1989 on Limited Potential. They had released the album Boogadaboogadaboogada half a year before, at the end of 1988. It’s the first release that features Dan Vapid. What’s interesting about the EP is that it both sounds more hardcore and also a bit more melodic than Boogada. Except for the cover “I Think We’re Alone Now”, all of the lyrics are written by Ben Weasel. The title track has music written by John Jughead and “Something Wrong” has music written by the entire band. “Fathead”, that appeared on My Brain Hurts was written by Weasel, Vapid and Jughead together. “I Need Therapy” is probably the most hardcore-sounding song on the EP and is my theme song. I think “Punkhouse” and “Something Wrong” are the best songs on there. “Punkhouse” is, as I’ve heard, based on a true story (the potato in mouth thing). The song is a catchy Pop Punk tune with the lead solos we got to hear on My Brain Hurts and got some tastes of on Boogada. The song satirizes living in a punkhouse and ends with a Peter Pan Complex statement “We’re never growing up” similar to newer Weasel track “Follow Your Leaders” (“Whatever you do don’t grow up”). “Something Wrong” is about being a band on the road and meeting “stupid” and “fucked up little girls” concluding that “there must be something wrong with us”. The EP was re-released a couple of times. Ben Weasel released it on his own label No Budget records and it was also released on Selfless records. The entire EP was also included on the Weasel compilation Kill the Musicians from 1995. And that was the first time I heard it back in 2006 or 2007.

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Dave’s Picks

Pixies- Doolittle

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Doolittle, Pixies’ second full-length, following the wonderfully raw and visceral Surfer Rosa, emerged amidst the veritable golden-age of indie-rock. The sound of ‘alternative’ was in its boom period, with Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth and Mudhoney having all released career-defining records during this period, but, for me, Pixies was always the crème de la crème of this batch of bands. Incidentally, I think Surfer Rosa is a little superior to Doolittle, but alas, as I wasn’t born until 1989, the format of this article series means that I can only ramble on about the latter.

To be fair, both of these records are great, albeit pretty different to each other. It is well-known that the recording process for Doolittle was in sharp contrast to its predecessor. While Surfer Rosa was recorded in little over a week with Steve Albini, Doolittle was ‘perfected’ over a much longer period with Gil Norton, who was much more ‘hands on’. It meant that Doolittle had a comparatively cleaner, poppier sound, with “Monkey’s Gone to Heaven” and “Here Comes Your Man” melodic hits likely to be found in indie clubs to this day (the latter with an incredibly memorable guitar riff). There are hints of Husker Du and Sonic Youth to the Pixies infectious indie rock sound, but not overly so; Pixies were always doing their own thing and I think they can be barely compared to their contemporaries.

Indeed, they could be put down as one of the most original, goddamn bizarre bands of all time: if they weren’t singing randomly in Spanish, Francis Black was squealing like his life depended on it (best heard on “Debaser”, of course), alongside some of the strangest (and at times, most violent) lyrics ever penned. The songwriting on Doolittle is, of course, fantastic. Although Kim Deal is only actually credited with songwriting on one track here, her influence can be found throughout (although this point of course marked the beginning of the end in regards to internal band relations). There is also incredible variety on Doolittle, where Pixies can just switch from the melodic alt-rock of “Monkey’s Gone to Heaven” to the jittery, country-ish ditty of “Mr. Grieves”. Indeed, the more straight-forward, poppy tracks just makes the weirdness stand out even more, like “Tame” for instance. “Gouge Away” is, meanwhile, a fantastic album closer, highlighting the band at their visceral best. Doolittle represents a thrilling ride, from first to last minute.

Fugazi- 13 Songs

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An influential and legendary band. Repeater is their best full-length, but 13 Songs is Fugazi’s go-to release for me. It combines the band’s first two EPs (‘Fugazi’ and ‘Margin Walker’) but for a while when I was much younger and first heard 13 Songs, I didn’t realise that this wasn’t an actual album. I mean, everything gels together so well. I guess the EPs were recorded more or less around the same time, so it may as well have been a full-length. I guess we all know the history of Fugazi but just in case you were unaware: Minor Threat dissolves; Mackaye forms the short-lived Embrace, an early pioneer of emo along with Rites of Spring; shortly after, in 1987, Mackaye forms Fugazi along with a couple of Rites of Spring band members and a member of Dag Nasty.

It is often difficult to know how to describe Fugazi’s sound, but it is somewhere between straight-up punk (of the spiky, anarchic kind), post-hardcore and emo. I know they have been said to inspire later bands such as Get Up Kids or Braid, but to me, they don’t sound anything like that kind of emo: rather, there is raw emotion running through 13 Songs, that sometimes comes out as pure unadulterated rage (most obviously on “Waiting Room”) while others are more considered, reasoned anger (see: “Provisional” or “Suggestion”). “Suggestion” is just great; a feminist anthem that must have been very much against the grain back in the macho ‘DC ‘80s hardcore punk scene (“We blame her for being there”). I guess there is an anger running through the whole of that scene and time, but Fugazi just channeled it in a whole different way. Some of it sounds a bit like reggae (“Promises”), as Mackaye wanted.

The word ‘fugazi’ apparently means ‘something fake’, but there was nothing at all fake about this forever-DIY punk band. They have always pinned their ideals on their chest and never deviated to gain profit or wider recognition. For one, they never had merchandise as such or had gig tickets above a certain price. There is a timeless quality to 13 Songs that derives from their ideals, meaning that it feels as fresh as it would have done back in 1989 (in contrast to so many of their peers). “Give Me The Cure” is post-hardcore brilliance; “Margin Walker” explodes in all the right ways; “Suggestion” provides a great lead into the much more upbeat “Glue Man”. Also, one of my favourite ever punk lyrics comes from this collection (“Waiting Room”): “I’m planning a big suprise/I’m gonna fight for what I wanna be”.

Screeching Weasel- ‘Punkhouse’ EP

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And so, to the Weasel! Screeching Weasel’s ‘Punkhouse’ EP marked the exciting period between Boogadaboogadaboogada and My Brain Hurts, when the band were really ‘finding’ themselves. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Boogada’ is great, but this EP marked the beginnings of a different kind of Weasel. They retained the brattishness, immaturity and pure fun of their previous work, but became more melodic here (partly due to the addition of a certain Dan Vapid). The songwriting also started improving significantly at this time.

In regards to a greater sense of melodic, I am referring specifically to the title track and closer “Something Wrong”. There is a sense of youthful exuberance and optimism in the former. I know there are a ton of songs about punkhouses, but this one must up there with the best. These are the kind of bratty, charming hooks that would later dominate ‘peak Weasel’ Although My Brain Hurts immediately followed this EP, I think the sound on ‘Punkhouse’ is more akin to the scrappy, faster-paced nature of Wiggle, particularly “I Need Therapy” and “Good Morning”. The vocal melodies on “Good Morning” actually remind me a little of “Dingbat”. “Fathead” is a cool song, but, as John Jughead said on his youtube blog thing, it doesn’t fit too well on My Brain Hurts, and it probably works better as part of the ‘Punkhouse’ EP. The cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now” is the only real filler on here (and cover-wise, pales in comparison to “I Can See Clearly Now”). Overall, though, one of the better Weasel EPs, and acted as the starter to the main course delight of My Brain Hurts!

 

 

I feel like Isotopes represent the stereotype of American youth culture perfectly. And they are of course from Canada. Formed in Vancouver, British Columbia, but they are currently based in Louisville, Kentucky, if I’m not off base. An athletic addition to the Ramonescore-landscape they describe themselves as Baseball Punk, and have set themselves out to educate the public about baseball’s etiquette and gameplay. 1994 World Series Champions kicks off with the first inning “What We do Ain’t Secret”, the title is a Germs reference and I love it. The music is straight up pop punk and shows us what is ahead on the record right off the bat. Though they are Canadian, Isotopes sound very European and could easily be from Italy if it wasn’t for the native North American accent. I have no idea who George Brett is and most of the Baseball references are lost on me. I also believe that, with the exception of a couple of Riverdales and old Oi! Songs, sports have no place in punk! I don’t feel like I’m getting educated on the subject through these songs either. That being said, Little Deuce Coupe by the Beach Boys is one of my favorite albums and I can’t stand cars either.

The song that has caught my attention the times I’ve listened to the album the most is “Indian Summer”. It’s a catchy little song and it’s definitely a highlight of the record. Other highlights are “Morganna” a very Riverdales sounding tune and “Rochelle Rochelle” that is very Ramones-y and catchy in its own way. The album is not bad, but it’s very generic. Many bands have done this thing before and better. I also feel like songs are a bit too repetitive for my taste. I keep on wondering; is the sandlot the place on the baseball field where there’s sand? Anyway, if you love to go to parties at the sandlot, whatever that is, this is the album for you!

Check it out here: https://theisotopes.bandcamp.com/album/1994-world-series-champions

RH

Wow! I’ve found a solid contender for my best records of 2017 list. Imagine blending the upbeat positive sound of RVIVR with the rock’n’roll of The Dirty Nil, then mix in the powerful melodies and solid work ethic of Success, and you have the start of an idea of what Grand-Pop sounds like. The Bristol band’s songs are tight and uplifting, melodic and powerful, and Warren Mallia’s vocals are strong and confident, reminding me of a smoother version of The Dirty Nil’s Luke Bentham, with the way it dives and bends notes, while remaining rock-solid and powerful. There are amazing touches in the songs, like in the opener, “Drop Trow,” which starts hard and charges forward the whole time – until the 2:40 mark, when it suddenly gets quiet but for a single whispering guitar, before it explodes again several seconds later. “Nova Scotia” is a favorite track, probably as much for the vocal gymnastics as for the great melody. “On and On” has a minimalist feel to the melody, which I like, and the vocals are particularly strong on this one. Throughout all these tracks, the sense of melody is amazing, and the power rarely lets up. This is highly recommended!

Check it out here: https://specialistsubject.bandcamp.com/album/eight-nights

PS

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Peaness is a trio from Chester in the UK who perform gorgeous, bouncy indie-pop. Formed in 2014, this five-song EP is their fifth release. The harmonized vocals are smooth and pretty, just like the jangly guitar-driven instrumentals. The songs have a sunny feel to them, like a breezy island jaunt. You can almost feel the warm, balmy air blowing through your hair. And I wrote that line before I even saw that the second track is entitled “Seafoam Islands,” so there you are. The songs are catchy and sweet, and they remind me of some of the best indie pop of the 90s, perhaps because of the harmonized female vocals (the band is a trio of women) reminding me in some ways of the late, lamented Tsunami, which featured a pair of women on vocal duties. The opener, “Oh George,” is a light, airy tune, with hints of Britpop like Stiff Records was putting out back in the day. The aforementioned “Seafoam Islands” has a bit of a funky flair and the best harmonized vocals of the EP. “Same Place” is, I think, my favorite track, with a more modern indie-pop feel than the other tracks, with a definite jazzy influence in parts. “Skin Surfing” and “Ugly Veg” close things out, and are in also fun tracks. The instrumentation on this record is a little thin. I think Peaness may benefit from the addition of a second guitar, but I really like the sweet sounds.

Check it out here: https://peanessband.bandcamp.com/album/same-place-seafoam-islands

PS

This Canadian trio have been very busy. In just one year they’ve now put out four releases. This latest is, I think, their best yet. They’re harder and crunchier than ever on the four songs on this EP. Two of the tracks remind me a bit of Refused, the amazing Scandinavian punk band, with the shouted vocals, powerful melodic lines, and hard thumping bass, yet with a hint of funk and hip hop. Those are the opening title track and the second track, “Values.” “Warren” is more of a melodic punk track, and “10 Pounds” closes things out with a blend of the two styles. Another enjoyable EP from the frozen north.

Check it out here: https://loserpoints.bandcamp.com/album/ones-and-zeros

PS

Broken Field Runner’s latest release is a four-song EP in five tracks. The Albany, New York indie band plays songs that have a sadness running through them. Themes of loss and miscarriage run through the record. Punctuating these tracks at the start, middle, and end are recordings of a child reading the Bible story of the ejection of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. The child reads in a very deadpan way, as a child reads without comprehension. This seems to represent the loss of faith that can go along with such a traumatic experience as miscarriage. The middle one of these is juxtaposed with a recording of a woman giving birth, adding to the feeling of confusion and pain. The songs themselves balance a delicate touch with power. “Expecting” is the first song, and it’s the most raucous of the EP, with a hint of fury in it.  “Skin Under These Nails” slows and quiets things down a lot, and the sorrow is palpable, especially as the song builds in intensity toward the end. “Wish You Were Here Instead of Me” has a simple melody and a slow pace, but the fuzzed guitars and deliberate tempo belie an underlying strength behind the despair that comes through in the song.  The title track closes things out with a short delicate song, very understated. This is a beautiful, sad record.

Check it out here: https://jetsam-flotsam.bandcamp.com/album/heavy-hanging-fruit

PS

POSI is a great advert for the UK’s DIY punk scene: melodically pleasing, without being cheesy; varied and engaging; lyrically inventive; and to top it off, an anti-The Sun song. Great Cynics play a kind of punk-y indie rock that feels grounded and relatable. They have evolved their sound a little since 2015’s I Feel Weird, partly because of the departure of bassist Iona Cairns (who is now doing her own thing in the fantastic Shit Present). As an album, I feel POSI works better as a body of work, with musical and thematic glue linking each song together, but Great Cynics don’t quite reach the heights of the stand-outs from the previous record (see: “North Street”; “Lost in You”).

I don’t know why it is (and perhaps I need to re-visit) but I couldn’t get into much Great Cynics did pre-I Feel Weird, but I now regard them as one of the cornerstones of the UK underground indie/punk scene. I think what differentiates Great Cynics from the masses, in a similar way to Martha, is both their inventiveness in songwriting and their personal touch. After listening to POSI, you feel as if you have taken a dive into lead singer Giles’s brain for half an hour. It’s the tales of the ordinary and everyday which do this most effectively: over the course of POSI, we hear about Giles watching Netflix on somebody else’s account, picking up a pack of Tyskies and standing outside Sainsbury’s in the rain.

Of course, all of this detailing of the commonplace may fall short if it didn’t resonate with bigger themes and ideas. POSI is essentially all about trying to remain hopeful and optimistic while living in London (“the most expensive place on Earth”) and going through all that entails. Like Apologies, I Have None’s debut album, POSI gives an insight into what it takes it get through day-to-day life in London (and all the friendships, romances, heartbreaks, touring that goes with that), but, its ultimate optimism is in contrast to the former.  Apologies sang about London being a ‘thief’ who made off with their perseverance and mental health; Great Cynics actually have a chorus where they proclaim that “happiness is a place in London”. Though, while everything on POSI is loosely framed around London, the best moments on the record concern the romantic: the euphoric, hook-filled indie rock of “Butterfly Net” and “Summer At Home” particularly stand out, the latter with the instantly memorable closing lines: “You don’t think that you’re special/ It’s what makes you special”. The other highlight on the album is where Great Cynics go overtly political with “Don’t Buy the Sun”, the first time that we hear Giles properly angry, saving his wrath for a tabloid rag and the hate that it perpetuates (and, in doing so, forms a great duo with Zatopeks’ own “Daily Mail”).

Check it out here: https://specialistsubject.bandcamp.com/album/posi

DB

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I am a little late to this party, but glad that I finally took a listen to Another Life, because it’s actually a really, really excellent record. If you were unaware, this is Joe McMahon, formerly of Smoke and Fire. They were a melodic punk band that released a couple of albums on Fat in the mid-‘00s. Minus a couple of hits, I never paid much attention to them, but the quality of the songwriting on Another Life suggests that I’ve made an error. This is a classic-sounding country rock record. If I were to read such a description, I would be probably quite put-off; this is not my genre of choice. There is not even much ‘punk’ influence or attitude on the record, except maybe the acoustic re-working of a former Smoke and Fire tune (“Neon Lights”). In contrast with the majority of punk-rockers-turned-singer-songwriters, Joe doesn’t do half measures and instead makes a full-on country-rock record that could that have come from the ‘70s.

So, what makes Another Life stand out? Well, primarily, it is the superior songwriting, as exhibited on the strong first half of the album. Joe is full of regret, bitterness, loss and hope. Opener “It All Went Black” hits you straight off the bat, with its mournful tales of ‘what could have been’. One of the record’s best lines is on this one:

“True love, well there ain’t no such thing/ Because being true is impossible to be in the world we live/ So, walk home and be free- the time has passed, for love or loyalty”

Joe’s vocals help ‘sell’ the songs: they are emotionally charged and pack a punch. “Chained to Ghosts” is one of my favourites and highlights Joe’s passionate vocals the best when he painfully barks out, “Everything’s gone blank”. The title track has a chorus which you will struggle to get out of your head. It also serves to underline the key theme explored on the record: contemplating the path not taken; thinking what could have been. If you’re bored of the whole ‘punk-goes-acoustic’ thing, Another Life may revive your interest.

DB