Side One Dummy – Release Date: 5/27/16
On their second full-length, Toronto’s PUP avoids the sophomore slump and instead delivers a record that clearly surpasses expectations. The album’s title is derived from a doctor’s visit in which singer/guitarist Stefan Babcock was told “the dream is over” in regards to his damaged vocal chords, but clearly the band was able to soldier on after two years of constant touring and create their defining work. On the record’s second track, “DVP,” PUP highlights what they do so well, and that’s alternate between reckless energy and precision arrangements, while simultaneously merging various genres. The song uses elements of punk and pop, along with an excess of gang vocals, to examine a failing relationship and comically dismiss its inevitable fate. “Sleep in the Heat” is a built around a shimmering, fuzzed-out guitar lead that helps to offset the heavy lyrical content. It’s undeniably catchy and definitely one of the album’s most prominent entries. “Can’t Win” features self-deprecating humor, subtle indie rock tendencies and an anthemic, shout-along chorus that’s sure to be a crowd favorite at shows. Additional highlights include a haunting, post-hardcore number called “The Coast” and a ballad titled “Pine Point,” which concludes the record on a hopeful note. The Dream Is Over finds PUP embracing pop influences and advancing their sound with great success. While a lot of the songs deal with disenchantment, there’s also an underlying sense of camaraderie and resolve, and that’s sure to appeal to PUP’s ever-expanding fanbase. Don’t hesitate to check out this album, as it’s likely one of the year’s best.
Fat Wreck Chords – Release Date: 4/01/16
In July of last year, PEARS re-released their debut LP via Fat Wreck Chords and quite honestly took the punk and hardcore communities by storm. Admittedly, the album was recorded in a hurried manner, but still conveyed the band’s unrelenting energy and unique approach to songwriting. In contrast, Green Star was meticulously written and recorded, and the added effort clearly shows. The record certainly spotlights PEARS’ evolution, but that’s not to imply they’ve abandon their signature style of frantic hardcore punk that’s both old school and progressive. Green Star charges out of the gates with “Hinged by Spine,” which channels Today’s Empires… era Propagandhi and highlights the impressive vocal range of singer Zach Quinn. “The Flu” evokes the spirit of punk pioneers Circle Jerks and Black Flag, and seems like it would be a definite crowd favorite in a live setting. The title track changes tempos on a dime, yet transitions fluidly between the varying rhythms. It also features a hyper-melodic chorus that’s supported by a horde of harmonious backing vocals. There’s even a re-recorded version of “Snowflake” from their Letters to Memaw seven-inch and it sounds more concise and confident than the original. Containing 16 tracks in all, including two piano interludes, this album is by all accounts a complete work that observes PEARS really elevating their game. Take a listen to the song “Green Star” below and for those who say there aren’t any new bands out there that are innovative or worthwhile, tell them to check out this record.
Fat Wreck Chords – Release Date: 3/18/16
Last week, Mean Jeans marked their Fat Wreck Chords debut with the release of the Nite Vision seven-inch. The record serves as a preview for their upcoming album Tight New Dimension, which the label will put out in April. Containing three songs in total, (one that appears on the full-length and two that are exclusive) Nite Vision finds the Portland trio sharpening their patented take on Ramones-inspired garage rock. Things get underway with the title track, an ominous entry that features surf rock undertones and a chorus that stomps along with authority. It also contains a gloomy yet melodic guitar lead that helps to solidify the mood of this confident anthem. Up next is “Now I Wanna Be Yr Dogg,” which channels Teenage Bottlerocket but adds extra humor and a noticeably faster tempo. It’s infectiously catchy and does a nice job of showcasing the vocal abilities of singer/guitarist Billy Jeans. The record concludes with “69 Tears,” clocking-in at less than a minute and a half, though still managing to include buzzsaw guitars, skillful drumming and distinctive call and response backing vocals. If these songs are any indication of what’s to come on Mean Jeans’ forthcoming album, then it sounds as though the band has taken their craft to that next level. Check out the song “Nite Vision” below for a sample of what’s in store.
Superball Music – Release Date: 6/02/15
For their second album, Matt Skiba and the Sekrets forgo the melodic punk influences that dominated their first record in favor of power pop and ‘80s synthesizers. And that makes sense, as their first effort was comprised of leftover song ideas from Alkaline Trio, (Skiba’s primary band). This time around, Skiba wrote specifically for the Sekrets, and once again enlisted bassist Hunter Burgan, (AFI) and drummer Jarrod Alexander, (My Chemical Romance). The result is a much more collaborative album that’s brought to life with great success by producer Rob Schnapf. The record kicks off with “Lonely and Kold,” a radio-ready song that evokes hints of The Cure and is propelled by a catchy guitar lead courtesy of Schnapf. Skiba’s voice sounds clear and confident as he sings about breaking old habits and moving on to better things, a theme that emerges several times throughout the album. “She Wolf” comes next and it’s a danceable, Bowie-like tune that’s loaded with keyboards, vocal effects and the masterful bass playing of Burgan. “Krashing” is another prominent entry and features a layered arrangement, creative drumming and a memorable, monster hook. The record concludes nicely with the vulnerable, piano-laced track “Never Believe” and the nostalgic, atmospheric charm of “Vienna.” KUTS is a cohesive, listenable album that’s both inspired and well-written. Longtime fans of Skiba’s work are sure to enjoy this, as are those interested in hearing him effectively experiment with synthesizer-driven rock.
Paper + Plastick – Release Date: 4/07/15
Break Anchor formed in 2011 and features members of The Suicide Machines, The Story So Far and Seized Up. They’re based out of Detroit and the awesomely titled In a Van Down by the River is their debut full-length. The record encompasses an array of influences, from hardcore punk to ‘90s emo, but the band still manages to create a sound that’s distinctly their own. Much of what they do would likely fall under the category of Midwestern punk, and this LP is by far their most fully realized recording yet. The album kicks off with “First World Problems,” an undeniably catchy tune that uses melodic guitar leads and an anthemic chorus to tell a tale of lost love. It’s trailed by “I’m Sorry,” a track the employs a breakneck rhythm before relaxing to a brief ska interlude that transitions seamlessly to a punishing hardcore breakdown. It might sound like a mishmash of genres, but the band is somehow able to pull it off without a glitch. Additional entries of note include “Fell Part,” a somber post-punk song about losing a friend to addiction and “Bang Bang,” a brutal hardcore blast that addresses the topical issue of police shootings. Break Anchor displays significant growth on this record and really defines their sound. It’s an easy album to listen to from start to finish and fans should definitely be eager to hear what the band comes up with next.
Red Scare – Release Date: 3/31/15
Success is an up-and-coming band from Seattle and Radio Recovery marks their Red Scare debut. The band’s sound could likely be described as a cross between Borders & Boundaries-era Less Thank Jake and early Dillinger Four, with an emphasis on positive lyrics. Oftentimes the term “sing-along anthem” gets thrown around too frequently, but in this case it’s a suitable description for many of their songs. Take for instance the album’s second track, “22nd St.,” which starts off with a galloping bass line that powers its way to a fiery chorus. Singer Aaron Rev delivers a passionate and guttural shout, exclaiming “There’s no light on 22nd St./There’s no more help for us/For every second passing by/There’s another chance to get out and make things right,” and the listener can’t help but want to pump their fist in the air and scream the words right back. “Revolution…” addresses trends in the punk community and takes aim at music that prioritizes fashion over a message. The song’s chorus utilizes powerful gang vocals and asks, “Where, where is the revolution?” It’s sung with such conviction and really seems like the band is urging its audience to take action and stand up for what they believe in. Another bright spot is “Lives That We Deserve,” a track that captures nearly all the best attributes of Success. There are distinctive vocal melodies, notable guitar riffs and lyrics about overcoming daily struggles in hopes of achieving a better life. Perhaps what’s most appealing about this band is their unabashed approach. They’re not attempting to capitalize on the latest fad, they’re simply writing honest songs that try to inspire. Check out “Lives That We Deserve” below for a break from a lot of the contrived and cynical stuff that’s out there today.
Jump Start Records – Release Date: 1/27/15
In January of this year, All Eyes West released its second album, called Doomer. While its title might seem somewhat foreboding, the record is anything but. With this release, the band simply builds upon the framework of its first album, further broadening their sound and integrating new influences. Doomer begins with a track called “Lie In Wait,” which features an ascending melody that rises to an urgent chorus. The song spotlights the vocal talents of singer/bassist Justin Miller and also demonstrates the band’s ability to craft songs that are uniquely structured. “Plastic Hearts” is up next and it starts with a hauntingly catchy verse that gives way to a shout-along chorus. It’s easily one of the record’s strongest entries and would be an excellent choice for a first single. It’s followed by “West Thirteenth,” a track that is enjoyably reminiscent of Samiam and showcases a multitude of impressive riffs, courtesy of guitarist Jeff Dean. Further points of interest include the post-punk stomp of “From Under,” the melodic rocker “Make the Morning” and the blistering, rhythm-heavy anthem “Overtime.” All Eyes West has definitely broadened the scope of their ‘90s-influenced rock on Doomer, incorporating a variety of contemporary styles and applying distinctive songwriting. Their sound continues to evolve as they tour and play shows at a frequent pace, taking the music in exciting directions with each step. Check out the album’s second song below, called “Plastic Hearts.”
Torture Chamber Records – Release Date: 10/28/14
Last fall, Chicago’s Textbook released their fifth full-length, entitled All Messed Up. The album finds the band continuing to push the boundaries of the melodic Midwestern rock that they’re known for. Produced by Matt Allison at Atlas Studios, the recording packs a punch but also underscores Textbook’s meticulous songwriting. All Messed Up opens with “Everything I’m Not,” a catchy and concise song that’s loaded with impressive guitar riffs and a surplus of soaring backup vocals. “Looking After Me” is a mid-tempo tune that builds to an anthem-like chorus, which is anchored by a guest vocal appearance from Naked Raygun’s Jeff Pezzati. “Change My Mind” is one of the record’s more punk-leaning tracks and pleasantly reminiscent of ‘90s emo/punk act Walker. Further highpoints include “Just One of Those Things” and “We’ll Get Old,” both of which feature Dan Schafer, (Screeching Weasel, The Riverdales, The Methadones, etc.). All Messed Up is recommended for fans of The Replacements and Husker Du, as well as those that enjoy pop/rock bands like Gameface. Its lyrics often talk of heartbreak, but there’s also an underlying sense of optimism, thanks in part to a plethora of sunny-sounding melodies. Having been together since 1998, Textbook has spent many years honing their craft and this record is decidedly their strongest release yet. Take a listen to the album’s first song below, called “Everything I’m Not.”
Red Scare Industries – Release Date: 9/22/14
Ten years ago, former Fat Wreck Chords employee Tobias Jeg was living in San Francisco when The Falcon expressed that they were looking for a new label to release its debut EP, God Don’t Make No Trash or Up Your Ass with Broken Glass. Jeg put it out and Red Scare Industries was born. Ten Years of Your Dumb Bullshit showcases 17 new songs by bands that Red Scare has lifted up and out of the basements over the past decade. Starting the compilation is the catchy occult-themed track, “Pyramids” by The Lillingtons, the first new recording in eight years by Red Scare’s longest-running band. Following that, The Falcon pops in for 1:43 after six years with “We Are the Bald,” an upbeat yet self-deprecating song that’s difficult not to crack a smile at. Masked Intruder offers up “I Don’t Mind,” a song about being so malleable in a relationship that death is the only way the subject can get rid of the suitor. The Copyrights, who just released a full-length on Red Scare, offer up the shortest and one of the most melodic songs on the compilation, “Oedipus Dill,” clocking in at 1:25. Teenage Bottlerocket keeps it straightforward with “TV Set,” a simple song about being overwhelmed by and sick of television. Elgin, Illinois’ Brokedowns really stand out with “Ouija Jive,” which sounds like a B-side to the Species Bender recording session that should have made it on the album. The Reaganomics come back after four years with “Bite Your Tongue,” a pop punk track about self-righteous individuals who post on the internet trying to change the world, but only end up sounding ignorant. One of Red Scare’s first bands, Cobra Skulls, contributes an angst-laced song sung in Spanish called “No Puede Mas,” which translates to “I’ve Had Enough.” The Methadones played their last show in 2010, but chalk up a new tune called “Trip Wire,” reminiscent of The Ramones, but with the Methadones’ refreshing signature power pop style. The comp’s tone mellows out a bit with “The Wallflowers,” a melodic indie jam by The Sidekicks. Brendan Kelly makes a second appearance on vocals with “Gluesday Evening Blues” by his band Brendan Kelly and the Wandering Birds – quite a bit slower and folkier than The Falcon. Great new tracks by Elway, Nothington, Enemy You, Direct Hit! and Druglords of the Avenues round out this compilation nicely. The album ends on a soft, sobering note with an acoustic song called “Forever West” by one of the newest additions to the Red Scare family, Sam Russo. His poetic, somber tone gives a great balance to this heavily punk-driven compilation. Check out the Red Scare Records 10-year anniversary show this Saturday at the Metro at 3:45 PM, featuring The Falcon, The Lillingtons, The Methadones (reunion show), Masked Intruder, Enemy You, The Sidekicks, Teenage Bottlerocket, Brendan Kelly and the Wandering Birds, The Holy Mess, Direct Hit!, Elway, The Brokedowns and The Reaganomics.
– Jason Duarte
Fat Wreck Chords – Release Date: 5/27/14
The first Masked Intruder album sent shockwaves through the world of punk rock. Their raw talent, mystique and the fact that they seemed to appear overnight were all integral factors in the band’s initial momentum. In the last couple of years, they’ve toured around the world and after the dust settled a bit, it raised the question: what’s Masked Intruder’s next move? With Fat Wreck scooping them up, the bar was raised. On M.I., they’ve strayed slightly from their criminal and hijinks-heavy themes, and focus more on love. They’ve tweaked song structures a bit, incorporating more vocal harmonies, doo-wop influences and most impressively – a song almost completely made up of vocals. They’ve also re-recorded two existing songs, “I Fought the Law,” from their demo and “Hey Girl,” from their split with The Turkletons. M.I. is a perfect album for music fans, because it doesn’t conform to the standard three-chord formula most pop punk sticks to, but they are maintaining their sound. The Ramones-core fanbase gets short, fast songs like “Hey Girl” and “The Most Beautiful Girl.” Heart-wrenching songs like “Stars” display raw desire, honesty and humility. The vocals are sincere and pitch-perfect. “Almost Like We’re Already In Love,” Masked Intruder’s impressive vocal display, is sheer magnificence. Their barbershop quartet-style of singing is guided only with shakers and finger snaps. The lyrics paint a picture of yearning, and do it in a way that sounds just plain pretty. Think of it as an evolved version of the intro to “Wish You Were Mine,” from their first album. M.I. is a must, as it’s one of the best albums that’s been released this year.
– Jason Duarte
Side One Dummy – Release Date: 4/08/14
PUP, which stands for Pathetic Use of Potential, formed in 2013 and hails from Toronto, Ontario. They’re one of the latest additions to Side One Dummy’s roster, and much like label-mates Restorations, PUP is comprised of especially talented musicians and their sound is uniquely original. They combine elements of power pop, indie rock, punk rock and straightforward rock ‘n’ roll to create a style that’s decidedly their own. They also play with a sense of youthful energy and just enough reckless abandon to make things interesting. The album begins with “Guilt Trip,” an angst-filled rant that evokes Pinkerton era Weezer, but with increased aggression and ferocity. It’s followed by “Reservoir,” which features post-punk guitar riffs, fist-pumping verses and a shout-along chorus. The band really hits its stride on “Mabu,” a melodic gem that offers numerous impressive guitar leads and a surplus of precisely-placed backing vocals. Other highpoints include the bouncy, shimmering pop of “Dark Days” and the driving, rhythm-heavy tune that is “Lionheart.” What shines through most about PUP is that the band members are longtime friends and therefore they’re extremely adept at playing together. This allows for creative and unpredictable songwriting that emphasizes the performance aspect. Since the release of their debut record last month, PUP has understandably received a lot of attention. Take a listen to their song “Mabu” below and get to know one of today’s most exciting up-and-coming bands.
Total Treble Music – Release Date: 1/21/14
Since frontwoman/guitarist Laura Jane Grace (formerly Tom Gabel) started Against Me! in 1997, they have transcended their DIY anarcho-punk roots. After leaving Sire Records in late 2010, they started Total Treble Music, home of their sixth album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Grace has undergone much change since coming out as a transgender woman in May 2012, and this album captures much of it. The opening title track, the first of several anthemic battle cries, begins with a shuffling drum intro, reminiscent of the drums that usher in “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong.” With brazen urgency, Grace sings, “You want them to notice/The ragged ends of your summer dress/You want them to see you like they see every other girl/They just see a faggot/They hold their breath not to catch the sick.” It’s difficult to not empathize with Grace as she sings with such anxiousness and ferocity, such as on “Drinking with the Jocks” and the album’s heaviest jam, “Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ.” Fat Mike of NOFX plays bass on “FuckMyLife666,” a surprisingly celebratory anthem. “Two Coffins” is the only acoustic song on the album, which Grace said she wrote for her daughter about mortality “and realizing that all the things in your life are temporary.” While morbid on its surface, that deeper meaning resonates and offers up a loving perspective of timelessness. “Black Me Out” is the proverbial nail in the coffin, closing the album. Emerging from its stripped-down guitar and vocals, Grace channels pure honesty sung with a stinging conviction. “Black me out/I wanna piss on the walls of your house/I wanna chop those brass rings off your fat fuckin’ fingers/As if you were a kingmaker.” Given its subject matter and placement on the album, I’m inferring this song is about Against Me!’s ‘liberation’ from its former major label. While the theme of the album is set to Grace’s transition and adoption of her new openly-transgender life, the album isn’t redundant. These are some of the most melodic, hopeful songs Against Me! has ever produced, with deep-running themes of acceptance, frustration, anger and the gratification of release.
– Jason Duarte