To the Wind – Block Out the Sun & Sleep
Record Label: Pure Noise
Release Date: July 22 2014
Debut albums usually fall into four categories, at least from what I’ve seen: underwhelming and/or disappointing, really great / damn near flawless, decent / okay, or really good, but with a few problems. I’ve heard albums that fall into each category this year alone. For starters, one album that was severely disappointing to me was Chicago pop-punk outfit Real Friends’ debut album, Maybe This Place Is the Same and We’re Just Changing (say that three times fast); it could have been a really good record, and I can see why people really love this band, but they just don’t cut it for me. The album had some good ideas, but what really killed it were the vocals and lyrics. I always looked at Real Friends as the “try-hard” pop-punk band. It’s like they want to be recognized and fit in with the cool bands of the genre that they try really hard to be interesting or innovative, and in the process, they’re the most generic pop-punk group I’ve ever heard. If you want to know what a generic pop-punk band is, look no further than this group. A debut album that was really great, or even just damn near flawless that came out this year was indie-rock, emo, and pop-punk outfit Of Us Giants’ debut, Nova Scotia. Sadly, the band is no longer with us, but the album is still very impressive. It was a rather unique, and somewhat innovative record that even more so blurred the lines between pop-punk and indie-rock. There was a Brand New feel to the record, and as a huge Brand New, I was all over it.
Moving on, an album that was decent for me was Issues’ self-titled album that came out earlier this year. I’ve come around to the record a lot more than I did when I first heard it, and now I think it’s a solid album, at least to some degree. This album sort of falls into this category and the last one, really good with a few problems, but I can’t say it’s great. It’s got some great things in it, but there are some things that just don’t do much for me on the record, including a few tracks specifically. That leads me to the last category, an album that was really good, but had a few problems. That album is the 2013 debut from Seattle hardcore band To the Wind, Empty Eyes. I know I’m cheating a bit, but I listened to this year, and there’s a reason I’m mentioning it. Empty Eyes was a really good record, but there were a few key things that prevented me from absolutely loving it. The biggest thing was its overall sound, yet its sound was a key reason I enjoyed it. It was a double-edged sword; the band has a unique sound, mixing melodic hardcore with metallic guitar tones, but it was rather weak in execution. Empty Eyes was certainly a memorable album, but no songs really stuck out to me, preventing me from really enjoying it. I bring up this LP, because a couple weeks after I got it, the band announced sophomore LP, Block Out the Sun & Sleep. After debating whether or not to pre-order it, I did, and I was actually excited to hear this LP. Empty Eyes was a rather impressive debut, but I wasn’t sure if the band would improve on their sound, or progress a bit, so how did it turn out?
Thankfully, it turned out quite well. Block Out the Sun & Sleep does show a progression from this group, but the progression isn’t that strong. I appreciate that they did do something a bit different, and refine their sound, but it’s just not as strong as I hoped it would be. Looking at the album for what it is, it’s still a strong album. If you enjoyed Empty Eyes, you’ll certainly love this. It’s more or less the same kind of metallic hardcore, but with a little bit more to their sound. They certainly keep that metallic element, but the songs are a bit more memorable this time around. Songs like “Trapped,” “Alone In Life,” and “Hands of the Clock” feature their signature sound, but with a bit more of an oomph to them. The reason I say that this record doesn’t really show too much of a progression, however, is that they don’t quite do enough to their sound to make this album stand out too much more than their last one did. Sure, there are some memorable tracks, but the album is still pretty similar to what they did on Empty Eyes, with one exception. I wouldn’t say this is my favorite track, but the title track is the most fascinating song on the LP. It’s a two-minute interlude, if you will, but it’s an instrumental track. Not only that, it has a post-rock sound to it, which is something that they didn’t do on their last LP. I would love to hear more of that kind of stuff from the group, especially if they went in the same direction as bands like Being As An Ocean, or My Iron Lung, who have similar sounds. The only problem is, that’s the only song that sounds like that, and when you have one song that’s different from what you’ve done before, that’s not much of a progression.
I certainly enjoy Block Out the Sun & Sleep, don’t get me wrong, but at the same time, there isn’t enough of a progression to say this album is that much better. The band has a lot of potential, and their sound is quite interesting. With the exception of the title track, they don’t do very much to switch things up. I appreciate bands more when switch up each record, and do something different, not releasing the same album twice. The title track definitely shows some kind of progression, and I won’t ignore that. Aside from that, there’s just not much else. It’s done very well, and everything is still really good, but I wouldn’t say that Block Out the Sun & Sleep is a much better album than Empty Eyes. It’s a bit better, but only one track really does anything too different. In the end, though, if you like this band, and/or their last LP, you’ll like this, too. And even if you’re new to this band, this album would make for a fine introduction. Their sound is unique, and the title track is interesting alone, so they’re totally worth a listen.
Overall rating: 8.8/10
Anberlin – Lowborn
Record Label: Tooth & Nail
Release Date: July 22 2014
It’s hard to talk about Florida pop-rock/alt-rock group Anberlin’s seventh and final album, Lowborn, without talking about the impact that this group has had on people. They’re arguably one of the biggest bands in the “underground scene,” not only at this moment in time, but of all time. The thing is, while I’ve always known this group is a very widely popular and beloved one, I’ve just never been all that into them. Their elgacy is certainly still there, and I can also see why people treasure this band like others treasure their favorite bands. It’s not that I never liked Anberlin, and I’ve listened to all of their albums, it’s just that I’ve never been a huge fan. The only album I’ve ever really spent time with, aside from Lowborn, is 2005’s Never Take Friendship Personal, which is the record that really got them propelled into the mainstream or at least the underground scene. That’s when people started paying more attention to them, and for good reason. Vocalist Stephen Christian has a very booming voice that can soar to new heights when he’s singing at the top of his lungs, or singing quietly on a ballad or slower track. The instrumentation is also really tight knit, too. I never thought they were really unique, aside from Christian’s vocals, but they certainly were a good alt-rock band. A lot of people have mixed reactions on their discography, and while I’ve heard all of their albums, it’s been a good few years since I’ve listened to their records, so I’m just going to focus on Lowborn, and whether or not it’s a fitting send-off for a band with a legacy and influence like Anberlin’s.
When the band announced their breakup earlier this year, I’ll admit, despite not being a huge fan, I was a little upset, too. Anberlin is one of the longest-running bands in this “scene,” being around for 12 years. Not many alt-rock bands can live more than five in their career, but bands like Anberlin and Underoath have managed more than ten. It’s amazing, really, and it shows how many fans they really had, and still have. After thinking about it for awhile, I decided to pre-order Lowborn, mainly out of sadness that a band so beloved was going, and because I wanted to hear the album myself. Both of those kind of go in hand and hand, too. I wanted to hear the record, but not because I was a huge fan. I wanted to see if maybe I could finally get into this band and finally end up loving a record that they make. And it would be a bittersweet feeling if I ended up loving Lowborn. Sadly, the album was supposed to come out in early July, but got delayed by a few weeks. That didn’t bother me so much, mainly because it came out a couple weeks after my birthday, so I had something else to look forward to. The album took a few days to get here once it shipped, and in the meantime, I got a digital download of the LP, as some labels/bands tend to include one with their pre-orders. When I first heard the LP, I gotta say, I wasn’t all that into it. It could have been because I was working a lot that week, and so I was really tired most of the time, and just wasn’t in the mood for an album like Lowborn. It’s worth noting that the LP is full of slower-burning tracks. It’s not one of Anberlin’s most energetic records, and that’s something I’ll talk about a bit more later on, but that could be a huge reason why it took some time for me to really get into it. It took a few listens, but I did come around to Lowborn a lot more. Ultimately, Lowborn has become one of my favorite albums of the year, and I can safely that I’m slightly into Anberlin a bit more than I was prior to hearing this LP.
A lot of fans have argued whether or not this album is their best, worst, or middle of the road record, but as a record itself, it’s pretty impressive. Since I haven’t heard most of their albums in a very long time, I’m just looking at it for what it is – a slow to mid-tempo alt-rock/pop-rock record with some Christian undertones in the lyrics. That description sounds rather lame, and describes a lot of records, I’m sure, but it’s done quite well. I wouldn’t say that anything on this album is really unique or mind-blowing, but it’s just done very well. Lead single “Strange Ways” is a good example of this; it’s one of the longer tracks on Lowborn, and one of the slowest, but also one of the most effective. It’s got a great vocal delivery from Christian, and his vocals really match the lush, and quiet instrumentation going on behind him. The tracks do range from slow to mid-tempo, which a few higher energy songs thrown to keep things interesting. The three tracks I can really think of that do this are opener “We Are Destroyer,” second track “Armageddon,” and seventh track “Dissenter.” The former two tracks are sort of similar in terms of sound, being just high-energy rockers that feature some really cool lyrics that paint a somber and apocalyptic picture, possibly referencing themselves, especially with some lyrics on “We Are Destroyer.” “Dissenter,” on the other hand, is the odd song out in this LP. It’s not necessarily a “stand-out” track in the sense that it’s good, but this is easily the one track that just doesn’t work, and I don’t mean in terms of consistency on this LP. It fits okay with the album, but it’s a weird song that just doesn’t really work for me. The track has basically Christian shouting/screaming a bunch of random lyrics; he doesn’t sing, but he just screams loudly. It doesn’t go anywhere, doesn’t lead to anything, that’s all it is. I feel like this was the one “experimental” track they wanted to include, but it’s the one track that falls flat. Every other song is quite solid, but that’s the one song that I’m just not all that fond of. I’ll listen to it, but it’s not a song I’m excited to hear, per se.
Aside from “Dissenter,” there are a few slight problems with this LP. The good things certainly do outweigh these problems, such as Christian’s vocals, his lyrics, and the instrumentation is pretty good throughout the record, but at the same time, there are a few things that do bug me a bit. The main thing is what I mentioned earlier – its lack of energy. Yes, it has some, but I feel like I have to be in the right state of mind to listen to this band. If I’m tired and sleepy, I’ll get bored listening to this record. That could happen while either listening to any album, or other low energy ones, but its lack of energy can also be a problem if I want something to get pumped up to before my day starts, or before I do something. There are just not enough tracks that really provide an “oomph,” so to speak. A few tracks do, and there is just enough variety in the album to keep it from being really boring and slow-moving, but even then, a majority of the album does go quite slowly. Thankfully, the album is only forty minutes, so it’s not a lot of time, but if you’re tired, and want a record to energize, this won’t be the one to do it. And if you do like more energetic music, especially from Anberlin, you won’t find too much here.
The main question I’ve been proposing throughout this review is simple – is this album a proper send-off to Anberlin? And despite its few problems, I would say it is. Lowborn is a perfect sendoff. Even though the album is kind of slow-moving, it’s still subtle, and nuanced. I can certainly appreciate a band that doesn’t choose to go out with a bang, but rather quietly, and respectful. Heck, even the fans have been quiet and respectful about it. Remember when My Chemical Romance broke up? The internet was ablaze with their fangirls crying about it. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, or anything like that, but Anberlin’s fans are treating their breakup just like the band – quiet, respectful, and accepting. Every band breaks up at some point in time. Some are sooner than others, and while Anberlin are a band that many people love, they’ll still be remembered. They went out on a high note, both figuratively and literally. I certainly admire Anberlin a bit more for this LP. I might even want to revisit their other albums at some point. I may not have been your biggest fan, mainly because I haven’t listened to your records much, but you’ll be missed by me, Anberlin. We’re sad to see you go, but it’s been a good run.
Overall rating: 9.3/10
Handguns – Life Lessons
Record Label: Pure Noise
Release Date: July 8 2014
Out of almost every record/EP that I’ve reviewed this year, only a few of those albums have been albums that I’ve been very excited to talk about, and that can range between a variety or reasons. Most often, it’s because I just simply love an album, but that ties into everything else, really. They don’t need to be unique, revolutionary, or that nature, but just plain good. Sometimes, the band/artist in question that I’m writing about can also be a very unique one, such as the new Being As An Ocean record, which still stands as my favorite album this year. As much as I love that record, it’s also a very unique record that listeners may not hear often, or even at all, so it’s really exciting to talk about things that I love, but are also very unique and interesting. Last but not least, and this seldom happens, but I can also be excited to talk about a new record because I never liked the band/artist in question. This isn’t the same thing as listening to a record by a band/artist that I’ve never been too into, but there are similarities. I’m talking about bands that I’ve just never straight up liked, but not to the point of hating them. The reason that this scenario stands out more is because there’s only one album this year that would fit under that classification. I’ve only heard one album this year so far by a band that I didn’t really like, but their new record turned me around, and I can say I’m a fan now. The band in question is PA pop-punk outfit Handguns, and their sophomore record, Life Lessons.
As many of you may know, I love the genre of pop-punk. I live the genre, I breathe genre, I eat the genre, and whatever else you can think of, I do it. In all seriousness, though, I love pop-punk a lot. I’m aware of its flaws, but there are some great records in this genre, and it’s the kind of music I’ve connected to most over the years. About two years ago, I had my full on introduction to the genre. I had listened to a few pop-punk bands here and there over the years, but never really got into it. When I did, I fell head over heels for the genre. I’m a full on pop-punk fanboy now, basically, but that doesn’t mean I love every record I hear. In that same summer, a lot of pop-punk LPs came out, including records by Such Gold, Title Fight, I Call Fives, With the Punches, Yellowcard and many other bands. It was a great year for pop-punk, but last year (2013) was really good, too. At the same time those records came out, I heard about Handguns. I heard they were a pretty popular band in the genre, so I decided to give debut album Angst a listen. It only took a few listens, but I really did not like that record. It wasn’t terrible, but it was generic, boring, bland, and immature. There were a few things I did like about it, such as vocalist Taylor Eby, but at the same time, the songwriting, lyrics, and everything else just really rubbed me the wrong way. I always looked at them as being the “local band” of the pop-punk scene. They just never felt like a band on a label to me, and I thought I’d never bother with them anymore.
Fast forward to just a few months ago, I read about sophomore LP, Life Lessons, and they released the first single, entitled “Sleep Deprived.” When this song came out, I was going through a breakup (one that lasted awhile because I gave this person many chances they did not deserve, sadly), and this was the perfect song for me to listen to. Not only were the lyrics perfect for my situation, but vocally, instrumentally, and from a songwriting standpoint, that single was exactly what I wanted from Handguns. It wasn’t anything mindblowing, but it was just straightforward pop-punk done very well. Everything was improved, so I got a bit excited for this record. I didn’t want to get my hopes too high, because Angst had a great lead single and a disappointing album. So I waited until the next single came out, entitled “Heart vs Head.” It wasn’t too much different from “Sleep Deprived,” but I mean that in a good way. It had the same kind of sound, and lyrics that I could relate to very well, so I pre-ordered the record. Another single came out in between that time, entitled “Queens,” and when I heard that, I knew that I made a good choice. That song was a bit different, at least instrumentally. It had a rather pop-rock/power-pop sound, similar to what Fireworks was going for on their new LP, Oh Common Life.
When July rolled around, I got my copy of the record about a week early. I’ve had a lot of time to really spend with this LP, so how is Life Lessons as a whole? Were the lead singles the only good songs on here? No, not at all, actually. The whole album is utterly fantastic. I’ve been waiting to hear a pop-punk album like this all year, and honestly, Life Lessons is a huge improvement. It’s everything that I wanted Angst to be, and that it should have been, really. What I sort of thought that Angst would be two years ago was an album akin to I Call Fives’ or With the Punches’ debut albums – albums that don’t reinvent the wheel of pop-punk, but are still damn impressive in their own right. Well, it took an album, but Handguns did it. They’ve made a great pop-punk album that’s been on repeat in my headphones and speakers for the last month.
Life Lessons is just a huge improvement from Angst, it’s unbelievable. That’s the thing that bothered me about that LP; the band did have loads of potential, but instead, they settled for the clichés and tropes of the genre. I just couldn’t take it seriously, like they were trying to be a “tr00 pop-punk band.” But with Life Lessons, this band has definitely matured and grown. Their sound still isn’t all that original, but like I said, it doesn’t need to be. It’s still really tight knit and well done. My biggest praises for this LP, however, are in the lyrics and vocals. Eby’s vocals have improved a ton and I love his voice on this record. He really belts it, and the emotion/passion behind his delivery is just fantastic. Lyrically, too, I find myself really coming back to this thing. Songs like “Sleep Deprived,” as I mentioned earlier, and other tracks like “I Can’t Relate,” “The Loved Ones Who Hate Us” (that has a rather brief but still solid appearance from Dan Campbell of The Wonder Years), and “New Years Resolutions” have great lyrics. I will admit that they don’t talk about original themes, such as living for yourself, relationships gone awry, being away from family on tour, but they talk about it quite well.
There’s really nothing I don’t like about this album, and that’s weird for me to say, considering I find nitpicks with just about everything. But this album does its job perfectly. It’s a good pop-punk album that, well, teaches you some life lessons, such as living for yourself, not letting the stupid things people do bother you, and accepting the mistakes that you make, and the bad things happen to you. For being a half hour, this album makes a very big impact. Maybe it’s just that this is a record I needed to hear, with all the crap I’ve been through in the last couple of years, but even then, this is still a very impressive pop-punk album. It might not be totally original, but it’s just done very well. It’s the best pop-punk album I’ve heard that came out this year so far. That’s a hard feat to achieve, but it’s funny how two years ago, Handguns went from my least favorite pop-punk band to being one of my new favorites. It just shows you that bands can mature and grow, just as the listeners.
Favorite tracks: “I Can’t Relate,” “Sleep Deprived,” & “The Loved Ones Who Hate Us”
RIYL: I Call Fives – Self-titled, Fireworks – Oh Common Life, & With the Punches – Seams & Stitches
Overall rating: 9.5/10
Fighting Season – Here’s to Starting Over
Record Label: Unsigned
Release Date: May 7 2013
Earlier this year, I wrote about the new EP, The Worst Kind of Luck, from South Carolina pop-punk band A Brighter Life and how a lot of pop-punk bands are quite “generic” and don’t really attempt to do anything different, or even put a new spin on old ideas/sounds. To put it bluntly, A Brighter Life didn’t have a unique sound or even attempted to be interesting, so The Worst Kind of Luck ended up being an EP that just fell to the wayside for me. I did sort of like it, but it just did nothing to really keep me going back to it. It sounded like many other pop-punk bands I’ve heard, and didn’t separate themselves from the pack, per se. Not being original isn’t really a bad thing, or at least, not as bad people might think. I love some pop-punk bands that aren’t really different or unique, but are still plainly good and memorable, such as I Call Fives, With the Punches, and State Champs, just to name a few. These bands have things about them are just plain memorable, and make me want to revisit their records. Pop-punk is a genre that is guilty of having very “generic” bands and a set formula, but if a band can put a new spin on that formula, they don’t really need to be revolutionary. My favorite pop-punk bands are ones that do try to change the genre a bit and move it forward, but at the same time, I do love bands like the ones I mentioned as well.
I wasn’t too surprised that A Brighter Life wouldn’t be a pop-punk band I love, mainly because they are rather unknown. That’s a mean thing to say, I guess, but most “local” and/or “unknown” bands aren’t very good in one way or another, and hardly any really stick out to me. Only three really have in the last year or so, and those three are Shirts Vs Skins, Life On the Sideline, and Fighting Season. I came across Shirts Vs Skins last year, and I don’t even remember how, but I downloaded their debut record, Hold Nothing Dear, and it blew me away. I was absolutely in love with that LP, and for being an unknown band, the album sounded great. The production was awesome, and the songwriting was great. They were definitely a band that I wish I had found sooner. Just a few days prior to writing this review, I came across pop-punk/indie group, Life On the Sideline, who just released debut EP entitled Honesty Is a Dying Breed. Again, the production on the EP is wonderful, and they actually are unique, and fascinating. They combine indie, pop-punk, and 90s alt-rock. They’re basically what Citizen and Transit would sound like if they had a musical child.
Finally, the last pop-punk unknown pop-punk that I’ve been really into lately is Canadian pop-punk outfit Fighting Season. The reason I found out about this band is all thanks to Facebook. They showed up on my news feed as a recommended ad, so I decided to check them out. The band released a new single just a couple weeks ago, entitled “A Place to Rest My Head.” As soon as I finished listening to that single, I wanted to see what else the band had, and just my luck, everything they had was free download, including that single. There was another single, entitled “Heights,” an acoustic version of the single, and an EP, entitled Here’s to Starting Over. I guess I’m cheating a little by talking about everything they have out, but I can’t talk about Here’s to Starting Over without talking about the other singles, because they sound just like the EP. That’s not a bad thing, for sure, because they’re all great, so I wouldn’t want to just ignore those singles.
Going back to what I said about bands who don’t reinvent the wheel, but are still really good, Fighting Season is definitely one of them. They aren’t necessarily an original band, but they’re still solid overall. The singles, and the EP, are just fantastic pop-punk, and that’s all it needs to be. Maybe it’s just that I’m hearing this at a perfect time in my life, but the lyrics are mainly what keeps me coming back to this band. The lyrics are basically about standing tall through the crap that’s coming your way, and getting out of your hometown to make a name for youself, along with having a track that’s all about a long distance relationship. Sure, those might be unoriginal themes for the genre, but they’re done well. The instrumentation is also done quite well, even if it won’t necessarily blow you away. If this was one of the first pop-punk bands you’re introduced to, that wouldn’t be a problem, because they do stay within the confines of the genre, but at the same time, they just do it well, so I really can’t complain about this EP or band whatsoever. And if you enjoy pop-punk, especially straightforward pop-punk that’s done well, check this band out. Everything they have is up for free download on their Bandcamp page, so check it out.
Favorite songs: “Heights,” “Standing Tall,” & “A Place to Rest My Head”
RIYL: I Call Fives – Self-titled, With the Punches – Seams & Stitches, & State Champs – The Finer Things
Overall rating: 8.5/10
Royal Blood – Out of the Black EP
Record Label: Warner Bros / Black Mammoth
Release Date: March 11 2014
The way in which one can find a new band/artist to listen to is fascinating to me. Many times over, I’ve merely found a new group to listen to because the album/EP art really caught my eye. Whoever says that album art doesn’t matter either doesn’t even look at album art or is a liar. Album art does matter, at least to some degree, anyway. If you see an album cover that you really like, aren’t you more compelled to listen to it? I’m also not going to pretend that price-point isn’t a huge deal, either, especially when a lot of us are too broke to really afford music constantly. Well, I do buy a lot of music, even if a little under half is free downloads and whatnot. Even so, when I see a record/EP for cheap, I’ll get it. Such is the case when I went to my local Best Buy store last week, and I came across a couple of albums, the first being Within the Ruins’ new LP, Phenomena, which I’ve wanted to hear, anyway, and the second being an EP, called Out of the Black, by a band I’ve never heard of called Royal Blood. I literally knew nothing about this band, but the artwork was really eye-catching. It grabbed my attention, and I was really curious. It was basically a beautiful painting of two women with animal heads. It was a very odd painting/album cover, but I was very interested. The price of the EP was only $2.99, and for that, you got four tracks, and a coupon for the band’s debut LP, coming out this month. For that price, I decided to get it.
I bought the records on my lunch break at my work, so when I came back, I wanted to research this band a little bit. I found out Royal Blood is a fairly new garage-rock meets blues-rock sort of band. The only blues-rock I’ve ever listened, as cliché as this may sound, is The Black Keys. I don’t really care for them all that much, but I did like their 2011 LP, El Camino. It’s been years since I’ve listened to it, and I probably will never go back to it. In other words, I don’t listen to this genre at all, so it’s quite new to me. I’ve never been all that into it, anyway, but for $3, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to listen to it. With that being said, how is this EP? From what I read, it was only released in the US, but Royal Blood is a British duo. Why they released an EP only over in the States makes no sense to me, but oh well. The EP is actually pretty good. I don’t really love it, and there are some things that bug me about it, but in terms of what it’s going for, I do enjoy it. The thing with garage-rock and blues-rock, I guess, is that they’re more “guitar-based” genres, and that’s sort of why I like this and don’t like it at the same time. I like it, because the guitars on this record are pretty pronounced and done very well. The guitar riffs are great, but the thing is, that’s all this EP is. It’s just blues-rock that’s guitar-based, with a pseudo-lo-fi production sound. Vocalist/bassist Matt Kerr has a great voice, but I can barely hear it on this EP. It bothers me, because when you do hear it, it sounds great, but the production on his voice just doesn’t work for me at all. And that leads me to my other biggest issue with this record, the lyrics. They’re not really bad, but kind of boring, because of how repetitive and bland they are. There’s just nothing that really stick out in terms of lyrics, or even songwriting in general. Each song has the same formula to it, but with a different vocal melody (if you can hear it, anyway), and guitar riff.
Don’t get me wrong, the good things about this EP are really good, such as the vocals and guitar riffs, but it’s the vocal production and bland lyrics that kinda kill it for me in some spots. Thankfully, this is only 15 minutes, but at the same time, it’s only good for a few listens. I was pretty into it when I first listened to it, but when the sheen wears off, there’s just not too much here that really keeps me coming back. That’s why I’m not a fan of this kind of music, really. Sure, it’s guitar-based, but just because a song has a guitar in it, doesn’t really mean that it’s better than a pop song. I find the new Jesse McCartney LP, In Technicolor, much more interesting and engaging than this EP. The EP did come with a coupon to purchase the band’s self-titled debut this month for $2 off, and depending on much the record is, I just might get it. Maybe they’ll improve with their debut, but in the meantime, I do like Out of the Black, and I’m glad I heard it, but it was kind of a misfire.
Overall rating: 7.5/10
Within the Ruins – Phenomena
Record Label: eOne / Good Fight
Release Date: July 22 2014
Out of every subgenre in modern metal, there are only two that I enjoy, and those are deathcore, and prog-metal. Sure, deathcore is an amalgamation of death metal and hardcore, but I call it metal, nonetheless. I wouldn’t say I absolutely love these genres, and that I’m a diehard fan of either them, but they’re genres that I do enjoy a nice amount. Many years ago, I was really into deathcore, but that was when I was a stupid 17-year-old kid and I had that “brutal music” phase, where I listened to stuff that was “heavy” and thought it was really cool. Obviously, I’ve gotten past that now, and honestly, most of what I like isn’t all that heavy, anyway. I listen to a lot of melodic hardcore, along with some deathcore. I was actually on a deathcore / death metal binge earlier this year, listening to records by Carnifex, Thy Art Is Murder, I Declare War, The Black Dahlia Murder, Arsis, Whitechapel, and a few other groups. I was in the mood for something different, and I came across these albums, so I decided to give the genre a chance after many years of not listening to it. In the end, I really liked what I heard, and considered myself a fan of the genre again, at least to some degree. At the same time, I have been listening to prog-metal albums every now and again throughout the year, including albums by Intervals, Mastodon, and a few other bands.
Sadly, however, there is one deathcore band that I never got to revisit during that whole binge, and that’s MA group Within the Ruins. I say “revisit,” because I have somewhat of a history with this band. They were a group I listened to a few years ago when I did listen to deathcore, but they always stuck out to me. Within the Ruins isn’t just a deathcore band, but they’re one of the few bands nowadays who are leaning towards a prog-metal sound. Some deathcore bands are doing this, such as The Faceless, for example, and it’s fascinating to me. These genres don’t seem like they’d be a good combination, but in reality, it kind of is. I like the brutality and aggression of deathcore, but the technicality and impressiveness of prog-metal. You put that together and you have a monster of a sound. That’s exactly what Within the Ruins has. I’ll admit, I never got around to listening to 2013’s Elite, but I did listen to 2011’s Invade for the first time in awhile, and I just wasn’t into that album. I wasn’t as into it as I remember, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to listen to the band’s fourth album, Phenomena. I wasn’t sure what to expect from it, other than the band’s sound. If I thought I was getting a pop record, I’d be mistaken. I knew I was getting a prog-metal meets deathcore sound, but the question was, how interesting would the sound be? I did pick up a copy of the album on my lunch break at work last week, and now that I’ve listened to the record a handful of times, how is it?
Well, honestly, Phenomena is certainly a good album, but I’m just not into this album as much as I want to be. Right off the bat, there is a huge reason why I’m not feeling this album, and it’s something that a lot of these bands have in common – their sound is either too predictable and/or too repetitive. Most often, these go hand in hand, and it surely does here. Let me get something straight, though: Phenomena is a good album. The musicianship is through the roof, as there are many face-melting guitar solos, and the vocals from Tim Goergen are pretty damn impressive, too. He has a nice roar to his voice and it just sounds great. The problem is, this album is rather boring, but not in terms of instrumentation or anything like that. It’s boring in its execution of these ideas and this sound. While I do enjoy this LP a little bit more than Invade, and that’s because the prog-metal and deathcore sounds are mixed a lot better here, but this album isn’t really anything new or different from the band. This is a pretty typical Within the Ruins record, but that’s it. If you’re looking for a record that’s both technical but also pulse-pounding, you’ll love this thing. I can certainly admire the musicianship and the songwriting, but there just isn’t anything to take from record. Every song, minus the two instrumental tracks, sound exactly the same.
My biggest problem with a lot metal is because the songs themselves are not memorable, and without memorable moments in a record, the album itself feels a bit flat. There’s just not too much on here for me to come back to, and it took a few listens for me to figure that out, because each listen, I got a bit more bored and apathetic towards listening to this record. That’s not to say it’s bad, or anything of the sort, but just kind of boring. It leaves something to be desired, since this band has a lot of potential, but I feel like this album was much more about technicality than making a memorable album. A lot of prog-metal guitar riffage makes its way on here, and it definitely feels like the band wanted to make an impressive technical record rather than also try to make a memorable one, and for that, it falls a bit short for me.
Overall rating: 8/10
The Story So Far – Songs Of EP
Record Label: Pure Noise
Release Date: June 17 2014
My thoughts on this current era of pop-punk aren’t too hidden from most people, especially if you’ve read any of my pop-punk reviews. If you haven’t, well, take a seat (if you’re not sitting), get something to drink and/or eat, and prepare for a little story from yours truly. If you’re not familiar with my pop-punk reviews, well, here’s a brief summary of what I think. As a whole, I do love this new wave of bands, but it’s not that simple. I don’t love each band to come out of the pop-punk scene. There’s no way I could. I’m not the kind of music fan who will listen to just anything in a genre. I feel as though I know what a “bad band” is when I hear it, but my opinion isn’t necessarily more or less important than anyone else’s. I’m just speaking from what I think qualifies as a “bad” band. Would I call some of the new pop-punk bands “bad”? That’s where my thoughts get kind of complicated. I love a lot of the bands in the genre now, such as Balance & Composure, Transit, Fireworks, Citizen, and plenty of others, but these are the bands that are actually moving the genre forward and doing something kind of different. It’s kind of hypocritical of me to say this, but I love pop-punk for its simplicity, but at the same time, a lot of the straightforward pop-punk bands are just plain boring. I love some pop-punk bands who have a straightforward sound, such as I Call Fives and State Champs, but the thing is, those bands have an “it factor,” meaning something about them is memorable. Heck, even a few things can be memorable, but they’re not just a basic pop-punk band.
And it pains me to say that a majority of the “biggest” pop-punk bands in the scene right now, who apparently are supposed to be carrying the torch of the genre, just aren’t that good. They aren’t necessarily bad, but they just aren’t interesting. Real Friends just released a new record, and it’s a perfect example of what I mean. The album, entitled Maybe This Place Is the Same and We’re Just Changing, isn’t necessarily a terrible album, but it was painfully boring to listen through, even just once. I didn’t hate the record, but I didn’t like it, either. I can’t say I’ve heard any pop-punk bands I just didn’t like, but the most popular ones just don’t cut it for me, such as Man Overboard, Neck Deep, and Real Friends. There is one slight exception, though, and that’s CA group The Story So Far. They’re easily one of the biggest pop-punk groups in the scene right now, and for good reason, I suppose. They’re nothing too interesting, either, but at least they do what they do well. I would lump them in with a band like State Champs, who is the same way. I don’t believe The Story So Far is the greatest pop-punk band, but they’re decent enough, at least. I don’t feel bored when listening to them, and I can safely say I’ve enjoyed their records a nice amount. That’s why I was interested in hearing their acoustic EP, Songs Of.
At first, I wasn’t going to cover this, mainly because I didn’t really want to go out of my way to order a copy of it. Even though I like them somewhat, I’m not that big of a fan to where I need to listen to everything they do. I did come across it at my local Best Buy store, however, where they had copies of it, surprisingly. They do carry their last album, What You Don’t See, but I didn’t think they’d sell Songs Of, either. And it was on sale, so I thought, why not? Honestly, I’m glad I did get a copy of it. My feelings on this band really haven’t changed, but in the last couple weeks I’ve spent with this EP, it’s really interesting. Not because it’s really great, but it shows a different side to the group. Instead of being loud, aggressive, and bitter, the band showcases a softer sound to them, and it would make sense, being this is an acoustic EP. At the same time, just because it’s acoustic doesn’t mean it needs to be soft and lush. Songs Of, however, is like that, and it’s sort of weird to me, because I’ve never heard vocalist Parker Cannon actually sing. He’s sort of started this trend in the genre where vocalists don’t sing, but rather, shout and yell. They use their lungs rather than their vocal chords, but Cannon’s voice is unique enough to forgive it, and you really feel the emotion in his voice. But on this EP, the emotions get much more somber and bleak.
With five songs and only 13 minutes in length, it’s a rather short listen, but it does make an impact. Because the songs are much more intimate, it does leave a lasting impression. Whether it’s a good or bad one, that’s up for debate, but I would argue it’s a good one, at least some degree. Cannon’s vocals are what could make or break this EP for everyone; if you dig his throaty vocals, you may not be used to hearing his voice quiet and actually vocalizing, but if you do like acoustic material from bands, and have wanted to hear him sing, you might be in for a treat. His singing voice is really nothing too special, but it works here because it’s different from what we’re all used to. The EP also features three tracks from What You Don’t See, “The Glass,” “Bad Luck,” and “All Wrong,” a new song called “Navy Blue,”, and a cover of a Bob Marley track entitled “Waiting In Vain.” The three songs from What You Don’t See are done fairly well, even though “All Wrong” is only 30 seconds or so. It just whips through the chorus and moves right into “Bad Luck.” It’s one of the only songs that doesn’t work for me, because right before the song gets started, it ends. That’s one of the best tracks on the regular version of the LP, so why they did this doesn’t really make sense to me. “The Glass” and “Bad Luck” are just fine, and the new song “Navy Blue,” is really good, too. It’s a quiet and slow-moving track, and that’s why I enjoy it. It’s quite different from what they’ve done, but it works somehow. The only other track aside from “All Wrong” that doesn’t work well with me is the Bob Marley cover. I haven’t heard the original, but I’m not all that into this cover. Basically, Cannon goes the route of 90s rapper Snow, who is the artist behind the hit “Informer,” and dons a fake Jamaican accent that just sounds awkward and blatantly fake. There is a nice attempt at making it stand out with some bongos and a nice little guitar solo in the middle, but the song just drags on and Cannon’s “accent” can get really annoying.
This is a decent EP, though, and I’m glad I heard it. I’ve heard the band is busy writing their next LP, and they wanted to give the fans something to tide them over, so what better than an acoustic EP? In context with the band’s discography, this EP is pretty interesting, but if you do look at on its own and really dive into it, there isn’t too much to really get into. The covers are fine, but the originals are a lot more interesting. The new song, “Navy Blue,” is the only track that I overwhelmingly enjoy. It seems like they first wrote that song then just put this EP together around the song. I’d say this is worth a listen as a whole if you do want to hear the new song, because it’s so short. Thirteen minutes is not a bad amount of time to spend on an EP, especially an acoustic one, and its length does help. If you don’t like this EP much, you won’t have to spend much time with it, but if you love it, it’s got a good reply value. I’m somewhat in the middle, though; I like this band and this EP, but I don’t love it, either. There are much better pop-punk bands out there, but I get the appeal for this band, at least. Their lyrics are kinda clever at times, and Cannon’s vocals are unique to some degree, so I can’t really say I don’t get the love for this band. With some others, I really don’t get the love for, but at least I can say I’m somewhat a fan of The Story So Far, and this EP is a nice addition to their discography, even if a couple songs just didn’t quite work for me.
Overall rating: 7.5/10
Islander – Violence & Destruction
Record Label: Victory Records
Release Date: July 8 2014
In past reviews, I’ve spoken ill of Victory Records, whether it’s about how they basically screwed over A Day to Remember, or how they sign terrible bands almost nonstop, such as Emmure, and Design the Skyline. I’m not going to take back any words I’ve said negatively about them, but I did say in a review that there can be good bands on bad labels. The review in question was of melodic hardcore group Counterparts’ sophomore LP, The Difference Between Hell and Home. That was a fantastic album, and every time I think about it, I’m surprised that it came out on Victory. Just recently, I came across South Carolina group Islander and their debut album, Violence & Destruction, at my local Best Buy. I actually had never heard of them, prior to seeing a copy of the LP. The cover looked interesting to me, so I pulled up a song of theirs from the record on my phone and gave it a little preview. I listened to a couple minutes of it, and decided to get the record. It was quite cheap, so I figured, why not? The fact that they’re on Victory Records didn’t really bother me, because if they’re still good, who cares what label they’re on? And the song I heard was good enough to warrant a purchase.
Well, getting straight to the point, I’m glad I purchased Violence & Destruction. It’s both one of the best records I’ve heard this year and one of the most fascinating, at least in terms of its sound. To put it simply, Islander is a melodic hardcore band who mixes nu-metal. They sound like a mix between Counterparts and Deftones. I know that’s a very odd mix of genres, but trust me, it works. I’ve never heard a record like this before, and I don’t know if many of them really exist. Something can certainly be unique, but also not be very good, so I’m not merely saying this album is great because it’s unique. It’s how they combine both genres that works. I won’t say this is one of the best albums of all time, because it does have some problems that really keep me from being head over heels for it, but it’s definitely one of the albums I’ve heard this year, at least. Islander takes nu-metal vocals, mainly drawing from Deftones Chino Moreno as inspiration, and combines them with hardcore guitar tones that do have a nu-metal influence to them. The band is much more hardcore than nu-metal, but that influence is still there. Songs like “Criminals,” “Counteract,” and “Pains,” really showcase their “heavier” sound. The Deftones comparison does come into play within the songwriting and instrumentation as well. To balance the hardcore sound, the band also has some lighter and softer tracks on the album, such as “Coconut Dracula,” “Kingdoms,” and “Hearts Grow Cold.” These songs aren’t poppy, or anything of that nature, but they just have a hard-rock meets prog-rock sound to them. I’m not much of a hard-rock fan, but that sound works very well for them, just as much as the heavier, more hardcore-laced sound does.
In other words, what really keeps me coming back to this record is its variety. There’s tons of variety in this album. One song, they’re a hardcore band, the next song they’re a hard-rock band. At the end of the day, however, they’re songs by the same band. Violence & Destruction is a record full of variety, but it’s not jarring or overindulgent, nor does the album drag on. At 38 minutes, it’s a perfect length. Compare this record to the new album from Nothing More, a fellow hard-rock band that has prog-rock influences, for a brief moment. Islander works very well, because they switch things up quite often on the album by having a heavier sound, whereas Nothing More did nothing of the sort on their self-titled album. The album was really boring, because each song sounded the same. I couldn’t get into it whatsoever, and in the end, the album just dragged on and felt really boring. Islander doesn’t get boring. I can listen to Violence & Destruction over and over and it’s just as fresh.
With that being said, though, this album does have some problems. None of them are really that bad, and the overall sound of this album is what keeps me coming back, but the main problems I have with this record are just in terms of the lyrics and vocals, at least to some degree. Nothing on this album is truly god awful, but vocalist Mikey Carvajal and his lyrics just don’t do much for me at certain points on this LP. Remember what I said about him trying his best at a Chino Moreno impersonation? Well, that’s what he does for a majority of the LP, and every time I listen to his clean vocals, I think of Moreno. That in itself isn’t a bad thing, especially if you love Moreno and/or Deftones, but his vocals are kinda lackluster at various points on the LP. At least his clean vocals, anyway. His harsh vocals are where he sounds much more at home, so the softer tracks don’t do as much for me as the heavier ones. The lyrics are on both kinds of songs, and they’re nothing realty spectacular. Some tracks have really imaginative lyrics, such as “Coconut Dracula.” It’s easily my favorite of the “softer” songs, because of its really outlandish but fascinating idea, where Dracula bits into a coconut and changes his name to Coconut Dracula, and basically becomes a “vegan vampire.” The song is written from one of the vampire’s roommates, trying to understand where his happiness is coming from. It’s so stupid, but its message of how beautiful things in life can be makes it oddly enjoyable. A majority of this LP has rather boring lyrics, sadly. They’re not awfully written, but they’re just your average “wake up, sheeple!” kind of messages that many other artists/bands have done before. They don’t quite offer anything new or interesting to the ideas, but they’re not bad, either. Like the clean vocals, they’re just rather lackluster.
As I said, what keeps me coming back is the sound itself. It’s such a unique sound, mixing hardcore with nu-metal, and it works so well. It sounds great, and every time I hear it, I get really pumped. It’s an energetic album, and for being only 38 minutes, it’s a wild ride. If you’ve ever wondered what these two genres sound like put together, give this a spin. Even if this album isn’t truly perfect, I can certainly respect it for how unique it is. And even if I didn’t like the sound, I could still respect it, anyway. Bands who are original and do something different are worth my respect, even if I don’t like them. I can appreciate them trying to do something a bit off the wall, whether or not it works for me. Thankfully, this album works quite well for me, and if this album sounds interesting to you, even in the slightest bit, check it out.
Overall rating: 9/10
Photo Gallery by Tyler Priola (morethanmeremotion)
Location: The Thought Lot, Shippensburg, PA
Date: July 26th, 2014
Full set can be viewed here
Photo Gallery by Tyler Priola (morethanmeremotion)
Location: DC9 Washington, DC
Date: August 4th, 2014
Full set can be viewed here
Photo Gallery by Tyler Priola (morethanmeremotion)
Artist: The Hotelier
Location: DC9 Washington, DC
Date: August 4th, 2014
Full set can be viewed here