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
Dirt Cult Records – Release Date: 11/26/13
Drop the needle of your record player into the grooves of Canadian Rifle’s newest LP and imagine for a moment that you’re banging two stones together over a pile of kindling, trying desperately to spark a flame. You’re tired, hungry, cold and maybe a little dirty. You want the warmth of the fire, but more importantly you need the light of the blaze to ward off the vicious creatures potentially encircling you in the surrounding darkness. The sparks of feedback in the opening seconds of Deep Ends suddenly burst into the inferno of “Withdraw.” It’s loud, bright and blown out, musically and lyrically setting a tone of frantic desperation that carries throughout the record. The hoarse, smoky vocals voice failures and inadequacies while remaining unequivocally unapologetic, and are accompanied by a fuzzed out guitar, buzzing like a chainsaw through tree limbs. Rhythmic cracks and pops of the drums burst like firewood, jettisoning embers in the air, and the guttural rumble of bass lines act like distant thunder. These elements careen through the nine tracks on Deep Ends, volleying between bouncy and upbeat as in the bass intro of “Pleasant Relief,” to the somber guitar intro of “Looking Back At It,” all the while retaining the rawness and personality the band cultivated over the last ten years and about a half dozen lineup changes. The album is not just sonically raw; Deep Ends is so lyrically unabashed it will make you blush, articulating volatile relationships in “Ditches,” panic attacks in “Lock Yourself in the Bathroom” or facing the death of a loved one in “Going to Get Fucked Up When You Die.” Canadian Rifle’s gruff exterior and bleak soundscape is tempered with a heart that still beats even though it’s been smashed to pieces in the gutter and run over a couple of times. Pick it up. Dust it off. Get on with it.
- Vito Nusret
Bridge Nine Records – Release Date: 11/05/13
If you think starting an album with an instrumental song entitled “The End” is a bit presumptuous and full of chutzpah, then you’ve come to the right place with Iron Chic’s second full-length album, The Constant One. We could talk about how Bridge Nine Records, (a reputable hardcore label) is an odd fit for what would be presumed to be a straightforward pop punk record, but I think most reviewers covered that with the recent Lemuria LP released earlier this year. The truth is that although Iron Chic is the same arm-around-the-sweaty-stranger-next-to-you anthemic punk rock outfit you’ve come to know and love over the course of their last 4 EPs, (Demo ’08, Shitty Rambo, Split N’ Shit and Spooky Action) and debut LP, (Not Like This) there’s a bit more going on musically and thematically in the grooves of The Constant One. With more rock style riffage evident in “Bogus Journey” and “True Miserable Experience,” the 8-bit videogame styled intro/outro of “Spooky Action at a Distance” and the guest vocals of RVIVR’s Erica Freas on “(Castle) Numbskull” and “Don’t Drive Angry,” you can hear them paint their very own picture of discontent, heartbreak, isolation and friendship with a few new colors added to their musical pallet. That being said, you won’t need to retrain your ears for this one. Iron Chic does what they do best on The Constant One; play heartfelt, emotive punk rock, dripping with gang vocals and springing hope eternally. It is this hope that is the crux of the album. In the face of constant defeats we could easily be compelled to just let our fears and anxieties bury us alive, but we all need to unlock the thing inside us that drives us to persevere.
- Vito Nusret
Fat Wreck Chords – Release Date: 10/29/13
Last year, No Use For A Name singer/guitarist Tony Sly passed away unexpectedly at the age of 41. No Use’s longtime label, Fat Wreck Chords, has responded by releasing this 26-track compilation, with proceeds benefitting Sly’s wife and two daughters. The resulting album features some of the biggest names in punk, with bands covering both NUFAN songs and music from Sly’s solo career. By all accounts, Sly was a truly gifted songwriter and this record does a phenomenal job of not only showcasing his talents, but also celebrating his life. Karina Denike, former Dance Hall Crashers singer, opens the album with a haunting, almost a cappella rendition of “Biggest Lie” that emphasizes Sly’s powerful lyrics. Strung Out provides a fast-paced, metallic version of No Use’s biggest hit, “Soulmate,” and it’s simply one of the best entries on the record. Conversely, Rise Against offers a stripped-down, acoustic take of “For Fiona,” which strikes an emotional chord when singer Tim McIlrath concludes the song by echoing Sly’s words of “I’m always here.” Bad Religion, NOFX and Lagwagon all contribute strong and sturdy covers, with the latter sounding particularly spirited. Snuff adds a reggae-tinged song, while Old Man Markley supplies some bluegrass influence, illustrating that Sly’s songwriting transcends genres. Frank Turner and The Gaslight Anthem also present quality interpretations, as do The Bouncing Souls, Teenage Bottlerocket and many additional artists on this compilation. In short, the album very much succeeds in honoring Sly’s memory. He was respected by an array of musicians and will always be remembered for being an especially talented lyricist. If you ever enjoyed any of Sly’s work, there’s no doubt that you’ll enjoy this as well. Lastly, check out Alkaline Trio’s unique and chilling cover of “Straight from the Jacket” below.
Rise Records – Release Date: 10/08/13
On his second solo album, Devour, Dave Hause forgoes the acoustic influences that dominated his first record in favor of plugged-in, rock-oriented arrangements. This is understandable, as many of these songs were intended for a new Loved Ones album that never materialized. When his previous band stalled, Hause thankfully soldiered on, delivering some of the finest songwriting of his career. At its heart, Devour is a complete album, comprised of songs that work together to tell an overall story. One theme is that of a disintegrated relationship, and the struggle to move forward in a positive direction. That narrative is contrasted with America’s continued decline and the disappearance of its middle class. Also discussed are childhood dreams that go unfulfilled and the challenge of dealing with those realizations as an adult. The songs on Devour definitely follow a linear path, and by the close of the record Hause manages to uncover a light at the end of the tunnel. The final three tracks embrace an optimistic tone and address topics like resiliency, hope and renewal. Musicians from Social Distortion and My Morning Jacket lent a hand in the studio to help shape these songs, and Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba made a guest appearance as well. The end result is a collection of rock songs with accents of folk and punk that match the lyrics in terms of quality. Devour is sure to appeal to a broad audience and a likely candidate for one of the best albums of 2013. Check out the record as soon as possible and take a listen to the song “We Could Be Kings” below.
Fat Wreck Chords – Release Date: 9/03/13
Sundowner, the side project of Lawrence Arms singer/guitarist Chris McCaughan, has returned with its third and strongest album to date, Neon Fiction. It’s Sundowner’s first release for Fat Wreck Chords, and also features increased contributions from Lawrence Arms drummer Neil Hennessy. Hennessy now handles bass and drum responsibilities, resulting in songs that are both dynamic and diverse. The lyrics cover reoccurring themes like cities and seasons, but it’s the unique manner in which McCaughan delivers his personal stories that really allows for the listener to connect with his words. The album fittingly opens with “Cemetery West,” a song about the Chicago neighborhood where McCaughan grew up. It talks about letting go of the past and looking ahead to new beginnings, and it’s anchored by an especially catchy chorus. “We Drift Eternal” is a melancholy number that deals with isolation, but as the music picks up in the last minute or so there’s an underlying sense of resiliency and hope. “Life in the Embers” is another highlight, as it evokes traces of Dear You era Jawbreaker in the best possible way. It also speaks of consequence and taking responsibility for one’s actions, and likely contains some of the record’s most eloquent lyrics. “Wildfire” appropriately concludes the album with themes of acceptance and forgiveness, and it’s undeniably one of the most beautiful songs that McCaughan has ever penned. Needless to say, Neon Fiction is decidedly recommended for singer/songwriter enthusiasts, as well as Larry Arms diehards. Fans of McCaughan’s previous work owe it to themselves to check this out at once.
Asian Man Records – Release Date: 5/21/13
The Wild play an earnest brand of folk punk that emphasizes personal storytelling with political undertones. They utilize a male/female vocal approach, along with instruments like banjo and harmonica, to create a truly distinctive sound. Over the past couple of years the band has toured extensively, honing their craft and drawing inspiration from new places, and the end result is arguably their best material yet. Dreams Are Maps was produced by Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! and she did a great job of capturing the spirit of each song, as well as the overall mood of the album. The record opens with “There’s a Darkness,” which somewhat serves as The Wild’s call to arms. It encapsulates all of the band’s strengths and talks about maturing and isolation, but still ends on a positive note. “New Bedford” is a compelling tale of illegal immigration and the need for immediate reform. It’s almost as if the song’s music was especially composed around its lyrics, with the instruments exercising patience and taking turns, thereby allowing for the message to really hit home. Without a doubt, it’s one of the album’s most unforgettable tracks. While The Wild’s sound is mostly entrenched in folk, they also allow for their punk side to breakthrough on several of the record’s entries. “Riverside” and “Cut from the Cloth” both feature hurried tempos and shout-along choruses, with the latter clocking in at barely over one minute. On Dreams Are Maps, The Wild sound confident, grown-up and ready for a broader audience. Check out the song “New Bedford” below and familiarize yourself with one of the most promising acts on Asian Man’s roster.
Side One Dummy – Release Date: 4/02/13
Restorations are a five-piece band that formed in 2008 and hail from Philadelphia, PA. LP2 is their first album for Side One Dummy and it proves to be a layered and varied record that’s engaging from start to finish. “D” is the first song and it starts with interwoven guitar melodies that give way to a charging rhythm section before the emergence of some hypnotic and dizzying guitar work. Eventually the slightly worn yet assured vocals come in and the listener knows that they’re experiencing something uniquely special. “Let’s Blow Up the Sun” is an exceptional track that demonstrates the band’s understanding of dynamics and restraint. Around the two-minute mark the music quiets to just the singer and one guitar, but soon the rest of the band joins in and spends the duration of the song rockin’ out with reckless abandon. “Civil Inattention” sounds like an amped-up version of The Weakerthans, which is of course a good thing, while “New Old” is the album’s most punk-influenced entry, as well as its catchiest. LP2 concludes with “Adventure Tortoise,” an epic, personal closer that’s six minutes long but remains interesting throughout. Perhaps one of Restorations’ best attributes is the fact that they don’t sound like every other band that’s out there nowadays. They combine a variety of genres with skillful songwriting, resulting in a finished product that’s both distinctive and accessible. Don’t be surprised if you hear a lot more about these guys in the near future.
Epitaph – Release Date: 3/12/13
With Home, (their third full-length overall and second for Epitaph) Off With Their Heads has managed to mature without compromising what they’re most known for. Singer/guitarist Ryan Young’s gruff and gravely vocal approach is still present, but he’s also perfected a clean singing voice to use when necessary. His lyrics cover familiar topics like alienation and despair, though there’s now a greater sense of hope than ever before. Some of the songs feature slower tempos, which allows for more variation, yet it’s all brought together by producer Bill Stevenson, who creates a sense of energy and rawness throughout the recording. The album begins with “Start Walking,” a raging opener that doesn’t even hit the two-minute mark, but is able to convey some of the record’s central themes, (self-deprecation, angst and isolation). “Nightlife” is one of Home’s catchiest tracks, complete with buzzing guitars, tons of backing vocals and an instantly memorable part where the music stops and Young deadpans, “Never felt worse in my whole life.” “Altar Boy” details Young’s experiences and issues with the Catholic Church, and it’s followed by “Don’t Make Me Go,” one of the album’s most barren and personal songs. The second half of the album builds with speed and aggression, culminating in “Take Me Out,” a shout-along anthem that ends with a cascade of gang vocals. Home contains some of the best songs that OWTH has written to date, as well as some of their most expressive lyrics. Fans of Midwestern punk with an emphasis on sincerity will no doubt find this to be a highly enjoyable record.
Self-released – Release Date: 2/19/13
With Divides, The Sky We Scrape has crafted nothing short of an impressive debut album. Having formed in 2008, the band has worked steadily over the years to hone their sound and refine their musicianship. The end result is a record that displays significant growth and incorporates an array of influences, yet remains consistently listenable throughout. Their sound is rooted in post-hardcore, but is accented with intricate guitar leads and a healthy dose of gritty Chicago punk. There’s also an emphasis on unique song structures and soaring choruses, all of which is brought to life by producer Charles Macak. The fact that the album was mastered by Stephen Egerton of Descendents/ALL fame doesn’t hurt either. Divides gets underway with “Sing Your Way Home,” a fitting opening track that enjoys a driving rhythm, technical guitar work and a spirited chorus. “Continental Divide” begins fast-paced and aggressive, but eventually gives way to a substantial, sunny-sounding hook. Further highlights include the melodic anthem “The Shortest Distance” and the urgent rocker “Albatross,” the latter featuring guest vocals from Garrett Dale of Red City Radio. Before the record draws to a close, “Southern Hospitality” takes center stage and proves to be one of the album’s most personal tracks. It’s also undeniably catchy and serves as a great example of each band member’s musical talents. Without question, Divides marks a new chapter in the story of The Sky We Scrape and positions the band for a larger audience. Take a listen to “The Shortest Distance” below and get acquainted with one of Chicago’s new favorites.