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.
No Idea Records – Release Date: 11/13/12
Four years have passed since Chris Wollard & The Ship Thieves released their debut album, and in that time the band’s sound has changed significantly. Their first record was somewhat subdued and rooted in acoustic guitar, while Canyons is energetic and embraces a variety of rock ‘n roll influences. Compared to Hot Water Music, Wollard’s primary band, this project incorporates a wide array of styles, from classic rock to ‘80s college rock and beyond. It makes for a varied and lively listen, and one that’s tied together by Wollard’s distinctive songwriting. The album gets underway with “Dream in My Head,” which sounds like a cross between Tom Petty and Lucero with a monster-sized chorus. It’s followed by “Runaway Train,” a rhythmic number that resembles a modern interpretation of a Johnny Cash classic. “Heavy Rolling Thunder” is one of the record’s most radio-friendly songs, with its catchy guitar leads and reflective lyrics. “Zyzoutta” is another melodic highlight, complete with creative drum fills and precisely-placed backing vocals. The album fittingly concludes with “Modern Faith,” as it features some of the record’s biggest hooks and allows for each band member to spotlight their individual talents. Canyons is a great example of a band discovering and defining their own unique style. Despite spanning a multitude of genres, it still makes for a cohesive work and is a likely nominee for one of 2012’s best albums. Take a listen to “Dream in My Head” below.
Asian Man Records – Release Date: 9/25/12
Sundials cranks the gain and treads more emotional terrain on its latest album, When I Couldn’t Breathe. Sundials is heavier, more introspective and frankly, a bit sadder this time around. If this album were among the Billboard-ranking, “Completely Broken” would be its single. Singer/guitarist Harris Mendell sings seemingly bittersweet about a breakup, summing up the details in just over two minutes. He doesn’t get too personal but repeats, “I don’t mind, cause I know I’ve gotta be completely broken” for most of the song. It’s as if he’s trying to convince himself of something rather than tell it. “Untitled” is unique for its progression, and for being one of the shortest songs on the album, at 1:31. Musically, it walks a fine line between slight sonic dissonance and melody. An earnest acoustic love song, “Strange,” closes the album. Mendell appeals to a woman despite obstacles within and without. His romantically ideal vision about the two of them falling in love is endearing and willful. “We can fall in love, wouldn’t that be strange?/Let’s talk about the things we’d never change,” Mendell sings. He sings as if he’s talking to her half serious, half speculative. Take ‘90s college rock bands like Chisel, Braid and Harvey Danger, and inject more lovesick, unsettled pop punk angst into them. When I Couldn’t Breathe carries the torch of its genre’s predecessors, is laced with emotion and riddled with introspection, with happiness and contentment just out of reach.
- Jason Duarte
Self-released – Release Date: 9/28/12
Since the release of their last album in 2010, You Can Make It Dangerous, The Scissors have undergone two significant lineup alterations. Former rhythm guitarist Yvonne Szumski has transitioned to lead singer and newcomer Steve Mast has entered the fold at lead guitar. Both changes are definite positives and have helped bring a fresh sense of energy to the band. Szumski is an exceptionally talented vocalist and for comparison’s sake, her style is similar to that of Pat Benatar. Mast is an accomplished guitarist, capable of impressive solos and well-placed backing vocals. Bassist Ken Fletcher and drummer David Schneider solidify a reliable rhythm section, while Darren Vorel anchors the group with his spirited guitar work and distinct vocal approach. Over Your Dead Body opens with “Skeletons,” which features haunting lyrics, rapid-fire vocals and a soaring chorus. Next up is “Stay Away,” a driving rock ‘n roll tune that was co-written with Plain White T’s singer Tom Higgenson. Other highpoints include the defiant, brooding ballad “Breakout” and the clear-cut, pop punk gem that is the title track. The album concludes with a uniquely cool rendition of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” and it does a great job of showcasing both Szumski’s vocal abilities and the band’s proficiency. This record signifies a new chapter in the story of The Scissors, one with much promise and the potential for bigger things. It’s recommended for fans of earnest rock music with strong pop sensibilities and dynamic singing.
Say-10 Records – Release Date: 4/24/12
Brian Moss, former front man of The Ghost, Hanalei and Olehole, is fronting a new four-piece called Great Apes, hailing from San Francisco. Moss polishes his unique singing style but also trims the fat for a new, minimalist effect. On Great Apes’ debut 7”, Moss offers the most melodic and upbeat songs of his musical career. “Sam’s Song” opens the 7” with feedback and rhythmically-backed guitar notes before Moss’s gritty and urgent voice weaves everything together. There’s a catchy bridge where the lead guitar gets just a little time to shine before it all jumps back to the chorus. “Detonator” is a yearning, upbeat pop punk song, utilizing palm-muted guitar chords and transitioning to open ones, creating a bouncy, driving momentum. “I wanna be your instigator/I wanna be your detonator/I wanna be your…your detonator.” The lyrics are simple, direct and sung with sincerity. “It’s a Trans’ World” is a simple and fast, catchy four-chord tune sung with an air of liberation. Moss’s somewhat erratic and unrestrained emotional style of singing shines on this song about fine lines. The chorus sings, “They wanna make my choice/they wanna take my voice/it’s just natural, it’s a trans world/they wanna smother me with their insecurities/girls will be boys and boys will be girls.” This self-titled 7” is the first in a three-part series to be released this year. There will be additional label collaboration with All-In Vinyl, Mission Social Club and one more that hasn’t been announced yet. Currently, the band is streaming a few teaser tracks on its Bandcamp page. Stream “It’s a Trans’ World” below.
- Jason Duarte
Fat Wreck Chords – Release Date: 7/03/12
With their latest album, Freak Out!, Teenage Bottlerocket has assumed total control of the modern day pop punk throne. While their sound is undeniably influenced by The Ramones and some of the classic Lookout! Records bands of the ‘90s, this time around they’ve diversified their songwriting and basically improved on all aspects of what they do. Everything from the vocals to the musicianship has been kicked up a notch, and such enhancements are evident on each of the record’s 14 tracks. Songs like “Necrocomicon” and “Maverick” incorporate topical and clever humor in their lyrics, as the first deals with zombies taking over the San Diego Comic-Con and the second pays tribute to the hit 1986 film Top Gun. Things take a more serious turn on “Done with Love,” when singer/guitarist Kody Templeman laments a failed relationship with considerable honesty and vulnerability. It’s definitely one of the album’s top songs, if not one of the finest he’s ever written. Templeman again succeeds on “Summertime,” a sugary love song that’s best enjoyed while driving with the windows down and the volume all the way up. Not to be outdone, singer/guitarist Ray Carlisle contributes a contemporary-sounding gem called “Never Gonna Tell You.” It finds the band navigating unfamiliar musical territory with great success, and the same goes for the record’s final entry, “Go with the Flow.” This Sludgeworth-inspired tune is also sung by Carlisle and it fittingly concludes the album on an introspective note. Freak Out! will likely be remembered as Teenage Bottlerocket’s defining full-length. It’s certainly one of the most memorable pop punk releases to come along in recent years and one that needs to be heard by any and all fans of the genre. Take a listen below to “Done with Love.”
Rise Records – Release Date: 5/15/12
After an eight-year hiatus, Gainesville, FL’s Hot Water Music has reemerged with a new full-length, titled Exister. What’s immediately evident is that the band is determined to break new ground and has little interest in revisiting the past. That alone is admirable, but the fact that they achieve their goal with ease is even more impressive. Singer/guitarist Chuck Ragan incorporates many of the styles from his successful solo career, while fellow singer/guitarist Chris Wollard shares what he’s learned in his other band, The Ship Thieves. Together they lead a group that sounds nothing short of revitalized. Ragan strikes first with the song “State of Grace,” which is a gruff call to arms that is sure to be a fan favorite at shows. Ragan again shines on “Drag My Body,” one of the album’s most dynamic and lyrically powerful tracks. The song also spotlights what is arguably punk rock’s finest rhythm section, and enough can’t be said about the talents of bassist Jason Black and drummer George Rebelo. Wollard dominates the second half of the record and makes his mark with a Foo Fighters-like entry called “Wrong Way.” It marches along with a haunting melody before giving way to a monster chorus that’s instantly memorable. He also takes charge on a tune called “The Traps,” a straightforward rocker with passionate vocals and intricate guitar leads. Exister is a great-sounding album, thanks to producer Bill Stevenson, and one that benefits from the band experimenting with different genres. After spending nearly a decade apart, Hot Water Music has returned in top form, sounding enthused, recharged and ready to craft more influential music for years to come.
Superball Music – Release Date: 5/08/12
Babylon marks the debut of Matt Skiba’s latest solo endeavor and the results are surprisingly positive. It’s definitely his best solo release yet and arguably the most memorable record he’s made in the last ten years. Also appearing on the album are AFI bassist Hunter Burgan and My Chemical Romance drummer Jarrod Alexander, both of whom do a skilled and dutiful job, but thankfully don’t get too flashy. This is imperative because they don’t overshadow what’s most important here, and that’s the exceptional songwriting. Babylon kicks off with of “Voices” and “All Fall Down”, which represent two of the record’s strongest tracks. Both are hyper-melodic and very much in the vein of Alkaline Trio’s From Here to Infirmary. They feature inspired lyrics and a renewed vocal strength from Skiba, and fortunately those characteristics are present throughout the album. “Haven’t You?” first appeared on Skiba’s 2010 full-length Demos, but here the heartfelt ballad is enhanced with the addition of keyboards and a rhythm section. Other high points include the haunting anthem that is “You” and the huge, infectious chorus of “How the Hell Did We Get Here?” Babylon concludes with a somber acoustic number called “Angel of Deaf”, and it ranks up there with Skiba’s best stripped-down closers, like “Sorry About That” and “Blue in the Face.” All in all, this is a catchy summertime record that doesn’t lose its appeal with repeated listens. Skiba’s voice sounds great and his writing is in top form, and hopefully that carries over to the next Trio album. Those searching for quality new music shouldn’t delay in checking this out.
Chunksaah Records – Release Date: 4/10/12
On 40 Miler, his fifth solo album and first for Chunksaah, Tim Barry sounds nothing if not confident. The music, which features a stronger country influence than in the past, complements the lyrics in a way that simply enhances the overall storytelling. His words often speak of economic hardships or passing trends in the music scene, but Barry injects enough humor into such topics that it keeps things from getting too serious. He’s also not afraid to look inwards and poke fun at himself, thereby adding to the authenticity of his already genuine songwriting. An example of this would be the song “Bankers Dilemma”, as it examines the brighter side of being unemployed. Barry talks about getting laid off, abandoning the mortgage and celebrating impending foreclosure with a “lingering sense of relief and a crap-ton of empty bottles.” In “Fine Foods Market”, he describes a line for lottery tickets as three blocks long and also depicts a segment of the crowd as “hipsters with ironic mustaches, who most definitely once were punk and now wear flannel.” He then proceeds to scrutinize his own musical upbringings and influences, as well as discuss his indifference to such fads. The title track reaffirms Barry’s devotion to his craft and emphasizes the importance of integrity. He says, “I’d rather stay broke and play fake-ass shows, move with heart, sing from your soul. If you can’t play then dance instead. Music should sound like escape not rent.” On the whole, 40 Miler is a positive record that finds Barry growing and benefitting from his life experiences. It represents some of his best solo material yet and is heads above the vast majority of his musical peers. Take a listen to the song “40 Miler” below and see why.