Chunksaah -Release Date: 1/12/10
In order to celebrate their 20th Anniversary, The Bouncing Souls released a new song each month last year via digital download. Every quarter, three to four songs were compiled and issued on limited edition vinyl as well. Ultimately, the band further appeased their fans and in 2010 made all 12 songs available as a full-length album, entitled Ghosts on the Boardwalk. The end result finds the Souls continuing to mature gracefully, occasionally nodding back at the past, but most importantly, writing some of the best songs of their career. The first noteworthy entry is “I Think That the World…”, which is a peppy and sincerely sappy love song that stomps along with a sturdy, cadenced purpose. The title track is exceptional too, as it exudes an introspective, U2-like vibe, mixed with some classic Bouncing Souls tendencies. Without a doubt, it’s one of the most memorable songs of their already lengthy tenure. “Dubs Stay True” and “We All Sing Along” lean more toward traditional punk rock territory and will happily remind fans of the Souls’ landmark album How I Spent My Summer Vacation. Conversely, “Big Eyes” and “Like the Sun” are somber, slow-paced ditties that showcase a band unafraid of maturing with poise and refinement. In the end, Ghosts on the Boardwalk stands as a testament to the Bouncing Souls’ greatness. Even casual fans of punk rock should immediately check this out, because these guys are unquestionably one of the top bands in the genre.
Asian Man Records – Release Date: 2/16/10
The Smoking Popes are one of the quintessential Chicago punk rock bands of the ‘90s. While it may be commonplace nowadays for punk bands to inject a sizeable pop influence into their sound, back when the Popes formed in 1991 this was far from the case. Their legacy, however, really speaks to the talent of each individual member, as well as how they came together to collectively write numerous high-quality songs. There’s the unmistakable, pristine croon of singer Josh Caterer, the intricate lead guitar work of younger brother Eli Caterer, the dutiful bass playing of older brother Matt Caterer and of course the powerhouse drumming of Mike Felumlee. It’s Been a Long Day captures their humble beginnings and features 20 songs in total, including the following seven inches; Inoculator, Break Up and 2. Highlights include the frenzied start and stop interplay of the bubbly fan-favorite “Writing a Letter”, and what is easily one of the best examples of the Popes’ patented laments of forsaken heartbreak, “Under the Blanket”. “Hang” is a laidback rocker worth mentioning, as are the patient, well-executed disc closers “Do Something” and “Pasted”. Nearly all of the songs on It’s Been a Long Day have been out-of-print for years, so that alone should be reason enough to pick this up. This collection of re-mastered tracks is also the perfect refresher for longtime fans who are awaiting the release of the next Smoking Popes full-length, which is due in the fall of 2010.
Epitaph – Release Date: 2/23/10
This Addiction is unequivocally the homecoming or return to form album that it’s been widely hailed to be. Released on the band’s own Heart & Skull label, (an imprint of Epitaph) and recorded by producer Matt Allison, (who helmed the boards for the band’s first three records) This Addiction serves to remind listeners as to why they fell in love with Alkaline Trio in the first place. On the one hand, there’s the return of the sincere and heartfelt lyrics, and on the other is the somewhat simplistic yet catchy songwriting that can’t help but demand frequent, recurrent listens. The disc begins with the title track, a swift and speedy number sung by guitarist Matt Skiba that sounds like a melding of previous Trio tunes “My Friend Peter” and “Armageddon”. The second song, “Dine, Dine My Darling”, sees bassist Dan Andriano assume lead vocal responsibilities, resulting in a melodious entry that evokes Warning-era Green Day. Track three features an unexpected horn solo that brightens and enhances the overall effort, while the fourth song, “Dead on the Floor”, is likely the pinnacle of the entire album and one of the greatest Alk3 songs of all-time. “Off the Map” and “Fine” are quality and quintessential Danny-penned anthems, whereas “Eating Me Alive” and “Piss and Vinegar” are straight-ahead rockers that showcase the finer elements of Skiba’s song-crafting abilities. The deluxe edition includes six bonus songs, not to mention a DVD of the band’s 2008 performance at the House of Blues Las Vegas, making it definitely worth the retail price. Arguably their best album behind Goddamnit and From Here to Infirmary, This Addiction is a true “return to roots” and simply a must-have.
Red Scare - Release Date: 3/16/10
Punk rock front-men vacationing from their bands and taking the solo, folk/acoustic route is all the rage these days. In many ways, it’s not unlike the ska/punk craze of the mid-‘90s in that everybody’s doing it, there’s not a lot of originality and its lifespan is destine to be brief. However, just like quality ska/punk, when the punk singer/songwriter thing is done well it’s damn good. Such is the case on this split record, entitled Wasted Potential. Sharing the limelight on this release are Lawrence Arms singer/bassist Brendan Kelly and Smoke or Fire singer/guitarist Joe McMahon. Brendan’s songs are up first and they primarily consist of stripped-down, lo-fi versions Lawrence Arms classis, such as “Like a Record Player” and “Quincentuple Your Money”. He also covers what is arguably Jawbreaker’s best song, “Kiss the Bottle”, providing more of a somber mood than the original and doing so with ample success. His half was recorded by Justin Yates, with the intent of achieving a raw and uncut kind of feel, which serves to magnify the true heart and guts of each song. It’s a unique and effective approach, and quite representative of what a lot of Brendan’s recent solo shows have been like. Joe’s contributions though are slightly more produced and offer a bit more passion and gruffness in the vocal department. Highlights included renditions of Smoke or Fire hits like “Filter” and “Little Bohemia”, yet the real gem is “What Separates Us All”. It decries America’s widening economic divide with heart-wrenching authenticity and surefire hooks. Fans of either The Lawrence Arms or Smoke or Fire should try this out to gain a new and appealing perspective on songs they’ve grown to love from the aforementioned bands. Followers of the folk/punk movement ought to sample it as well, because it’s one of the best examples of this hip and fashionable format.
Epitaph – Release Date: 3/23/10
Soon after the release of Propagandhi’s second album, 1996’s Less Talk, More Rock, John K. Samson left the hugely influential punk rock band and formed The Weakerthans. By no means was it his intent to bridge the gap between hardcore, political punk and folk-tinged indie rock, but by steadily releasing high-quality records for over a decade, Samson has inadvertently made it safe for punks everywhere to embrace soft and quiet music. This the Weakerthans’ first live album, christened Live at the Burton Cummings Theatre, does a noble job of exhibiting the strongest moments of their back catalog in a fresh and exciting context. Songs from all four full-lengths are represented and further fleshed-out by an expanded lineup that consists of trumpet, violin and female vocals. Another bonus is the liveliness of the hometown crowd, whose energy only adds to the captivating concert that took place on a special Winnipeg evening in April of 2009. Although the band takes a few songs to warm-up, by the time they reach the fifth song, “Reconstruction Site”, they really start to hit their stride. The song’s reminiscent mood draws the crowd’s attention before giving way to the hurried march of “Aside”, which is easily one of the best songs off their second album. “The Reasons” and its earnest lyrics is another pleasing focal point, as is “Left and Leaving”, due to its deeply personal and vulnerable nature. In a live setting, the song is somehow more engaging and emotional than the already stellar recorded version. Additional distinguished performances include; “Wellington’s Wednesdays”, “Manifest” and “One Great City!”. This CD/DVD combo pack is a terrific example of how a live album should be done; the recording is pure and unpolished, the DVD is beautifully shot, the song selection is great and the band played brilliantly. Needless to say, Live at the Burton Cummings Theatre is highly recommended.
Side One Dummy – Release Date: 4/27/10
Jesse Malin is a skilled and talented singer/songwriter from New York City. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, he fronted bands such as Heart Attack and D Generation before going solo in 2002. Love It to Life is Malin’s fourth solitary disc and his first for Side One Dummy. It was produced by Ted Hutt and by all accounts does an impressive job of blending the various styles of his previous three albums. Also of note is that Love It to Life witnesses Malin’s first collaboration with a troupe of musicians known as The St. Marks Social, in addition to guest appearances by Ryan Adams, Brian Fallon and more. The record starts with “Burning the Bowery”, a confident, melodic piece of music that celebrates Malin’s love of NYC. It’s undeniably one of the greatest songs of his career and in the best possible way sounds as though it should be the featured song on a movie soundtrack. “All the Way from Moscow” is up next and it’s a guitar-driven tune with Weezer-like pop sensibilities and a dynamic, forceful tempo that seems like it was specifically written to be performed in a live setting. “St. Marks Sunset” is a disheartened love song that slows things down a bit, while “Burn the Bridge” speaks to the spirit of teenage angst and reckless abandon that’s found in every diehard fan of rock ‘n roll. The album draws to a close with “Black Boombox”, Love It to Life’s edgiest, most urgent track, followed by “Lonely at Heart”, a somber ballad that champions heartache with accents of piano and acoustic guitar. What’s problematic is Love It to Life’s relatively short duration, (only 10 songs total) and the fact that it’s simply not as consistent as Malin’s previous record, Glitter in the Gutter. Perhaps after further touring with his new backing band, Malin will be able to deliver a more cohesive album. Until then, newcomers should sample Glitter in the Gutter before trying Love It to Life.
Vagrant – Release Date: 5/4/10
The Hold Steady’s fifth album, Heaven is Whenever, finds the band sounding further assured and at ease than ever before. Despite the departure of multi-instrumentalist Franz Nicolay, the group doesn’t seem as though it’s grasping to fill some sort of void. Rather, it’s more like they’ve embraced a newfound sense of certainty and conviction. On the whole, this collection of songs features added breathing room, a deep-seated classic rock vibe and improved vocal arrangements. Tracks two and three, “Soft in the Center” and “The Weekenders”, get things started on a positive note, as both provide big hooks, pleasant harmonies and blazing guitar leads. Also emphasized on the aforementioned songs is singer/guitarist Craig Finn’s patented lyrical approach of lessons learned from young love gone awry. However, the disc’s best lyrics are found on “Rock Problems”, which refreshingly injects a drop of cynical humor into one of Finn’s conventional tales of drunken follies. Perhaps the album’s top entry though is “Hurricane J” and its upbeat backing vocals, mega chorus and charging, energetic crescendo. The remaining songs aren’t quite as memorable, and overall Heaven is Whenever probably isn’t as strong a release as the band’s previous two full-lengths. That being said, this is still a decent effort that possesses quality production and artwork, and should undoubtedly be purchased by previous fans of the band. Newcomers in search of exceptional, riff-heavy rock ‘n roll should first sample their 2006 record, Boys and Girls in America.
Paper + Plastic – Release Date: 5/18/10
Stephen Egerton is best known as the proficient guitarist of legendary pop punk pioneers The Descendents and ALL. He’s also arguably the most talented and skillful punk rock guitarist of all-time. This is his first solo effort and very much a unique album in terms of how it was created. Egerton not only wrote all of the songs, he also played every instrument, (guitar, bass and drums) and even recorded everything in his own studio. He then went about enlisting the help of various distinguished punk singers to contribute lyrics and vocals. Some of the notable vocalists include; Tim McIlrath of Rise Against, Joey Cape of Lagwagon and Dan Andriano of Alkaline Trio. Not surprisingly, the principal entries come from the most prominent singers. “Cut Me Down to Size” is a spry, bouncy number sung by Mike Herrera of MxPx and it’s undeniably the catchiest song on the disc. “Print on Paper” features vocals from Chris Demakes and Roger Manganelli of Less Than Jake, as well as lyrics from their drummer, Vinnie Fiorello. It’s a mature, mid-tempo rocker, accented with attractive guitar leads and solidified by a robust chorus. Lastly, there’s “She’s Got Everything”, which boasts a rare appearance by Descendents singer Milo Aukerman. The song is sure to please diehard Descendents fans through and through, and sounds as though it could have easily been included on their 2004 album, Cool to Be You. Ultimately, what’s problematic regarding this release is the fact that it contains a total of 16 songs, thereby making it difficult to establish consistency and avoid filler tracks. Rather than buy the entire record, potential listeners should pick and choose from the abovementioned vocalists via iTunes, while steering clear of the lesser-known singers.
Sire – Release Date: 6/8/10
White Crosses is Against Me!’s second major label offering, and by industry standards, this time it’s platinum or bust. Their last album, New Wave, was critically-acclaimed and achieved modest commercial success, but now they need to move at least a million units, as the music bigwigs say, to keep things above water. Whether or not that will happen has yet to be determined, though with a hit single like “I was a Teenage Anarchist”, newfound levels of achievement could likely lie in the band’s future. The song addresses singer/guitarist Tom Gabel’s youth, takes aim at the group’s haters and above all, is a quintessential summertime anthem. It’s tailor-made for full-volume highway sing-along sessions, with its plethora of sunny melodies and an abundance of beefy hooks. Another bright spot is “Because of the Shame”, even if sounds a bit too much like Bruce Springsteen’s “No Surrender”. The song’s driving rhythm is propelled by an array of rousing backing vocals and a tasteful piano accompaniment, both of which would surely make The Boss proud. Another positive is “Rapid Decompression”, as it harkens back to the band’s punk rock roots, romps along with snarled hostility and clocks-in at less than two minutes. Sadly, the remaining tracks don’t fare so well. Musically speaking, most of them stray too far from what the group’s known for, (and adept at) while from a lyrical stance, many of the entries seem uninspired. Also disappointing is the fact that the addition of drummer extraordinaire George Rebelo, (Hot Water Music) goes virtually unnoticed, as his playing seems stifled and predictable. In the end, this is by no means Against Me!’s best record. There are certainly a couple of great songs present, but unfortunately they’re outweighed by the ones that lie beyond the band’s comfort zone. Trying new ideas is never a bad formula, but sometimes when you lean too far on a limb the branch snaps, and such is the case with White Crosses.
Epitaph – Release Date: 6/8/10
For their Epitaph debut, In Desolation, Off With Their Heads has done little to tweak their tried and true formula. Instead, they’ve merely enhanced and perfected it. The band’s songs may typically only contain four chords, but it’s not about the caliber of complexity. What’s paramount is the unique manner in which the arrangements are crafted, as well as the various tempos that are unexpectedly employed. Also significant is singer Ryan Young’s distinctive, gravelly, angst-filled vocal delivery. His lyrics often speak of despair and sorrow, but there’s always at least a shred of hopefulness to be found. Just as Young’s overall performance has progressed, so too has the level of musicianship displayed by the rest of the band, hence creating one of those rare albums that’s not only balanced, but also sets a new benchmark for the group. “Drive” is an energizing opener that gallops with vigorous intensity, and “Trying to Breathe” is a soaring proclamation of exasperation that’s instantly memorable. “I Just Want You to Know” is truly a touching and beautiful pop punk love song, while “Clear the Air” ends the record with striking vulnerability and passion. Previous admirers of OWTH shouldn’t hesitate to acquire this album, for it legitimately is their finest release to date. In Desolation is highly recommended for supporters of Dillinger Four and/or ‘90s East Bay punk, not to mention anyone interested in hearing one of the top offerings put out by Epitaph in years.
Side One Dummy – Release Date: 6/15/10
With American Slang, Gaslight Anthem has assembled its most polished and cohesive album thus far. Having spent the last couple years touring the globe, the record does an outstanding job of spotlighting the band’s musical maturation. It’s also exceedingly listenable from start to finish, even though if from a creative viewpoint, it doesn’t take a lot of risks. Their last album, The ’59 Sound, had several sizable, substantial hits, coupled with a few misfires. American Slang, on the other hand, is comprised of mostly consistent if not pedestrian entries. The title track ushers in the proceedings with abundant confidence, as it evokes the group’s trademark tendencies of working-class nostalgia mixed with a healthy dose of Springsteen and Strummer. It’s a solid song by all accounts, but frankly doesn’t measure up to some of the better songs off The ’59 Sound, like “Great Expectations” or “Here’s Looking at You, Kid”. “The Diamond Church Street Choir” is rather noteworthy and possibly the disc’s most distinct tune, due to an overt jazz influence and the welcomed absence of power chords. On the contrary, “Boxer” is a clear-cut rocker with an unreal guitar lead, affectionately recollecting the group’s punk rock pedigree. Last but not least is “The Spirit of Jazz”, which just might be the album’s number one song, for its impressive symmetry of catchy songwriting and superb lyricism. In summation, American Slang is a mature and reliable record, yet doesn’t contain Gaslight Anthem’s optimum material. It’s unquestionably worth checking out, but far from the breakthrough album that many expected from one of the biggest independent rock bands around. Perhaps in the future American Slang will be remembered as the band’s steppingstone to superstardom, though for now, fans ought to keep spinning The ’59 Sound instead.