Posts Tagged ‘alternative’

jew-damageLet’s be honest with ourselves here—there will never be another Clarity or Bleed American, simply because those records are modern classics, and Jimmy Eat World got older, and so did we. These days, I’m not expecting JEW to put out the next Clarity, because it’s not 1999 anymore, it’s 2013.

That being said, I don’t want them to abandon what made them excellent in the first place. I don’t think they ever completely did, but some of their previous records flirted with it, becoming poppier and more produced than I would have liked.

Damage is the closest Jimmy Eat World has come to returning to their classic emo/alternative rock roots in many years, and it is excellent indeed. The record seems to mix the older stripped-down emo sounds with the Futures-and-onward full-bodied aesthetic. In short, it’s a good mix of the old and new Jimmy Eat World.

Right off the bat, “Appreciation” hits the listener with an organic guitar-based approach that typifies most of Damage. It’s probably thanks to the bare-bones recording-to-tape approach used by producer Alain Johannes, a regular Queens of the Stone Age collaborator. The title track, “Lean,” and “Book of Love” are upbeat, jaunty pop-rock songs. Lead single “I Will Steal You Back” boasts one of the stronger choruses on the album.

“Please Say No” might be the “Hear You Me” of Damage; a gradually-building slow-tempo ballad with deeply personal and specific lyrics. The next two tracks step up the energy—the exceptional “How’d You Have Me” is full of driving guitar and catchy hooks, and “No, Never” is the closest thing to Bleed American/Futures-era Jimmy Eat World I’ve heard the band produce since those records were released.

JEW has always thrived in the open spaces—expansive, mid-tempo rock songs with emotive lyrics from frontman Jim Adkins. The superb “Byebyelove” is a great example: another standout for sure, and one of my favorites. Album closer “You Were Good” is a simple acoustic song that almost sounds like it could have been found on one of JEW’s lesser-known EPs like Firestarter, the self-titled EP, or Stay On My Side Tonight.

Along with guitarist Tom Linton, bassist Rick Burch, and drummer Zach Lind, Adkins has crafted another masterwork here with Jimmy Eat World’s seventh studio full-length. Although the record is rather short—ten tracks, clocking in at just over a half-hour—the band consistently pulls off what they do best: sweet and simple emo-rock songs that stick with you. 2013’s Damage is unexpectedly excellent.

~ J.M.

What You Don't See

It’s safe to say that The Story So Far’s 2011 debut full-length album, Under Soil and Dirt, threw me back in my chair, like it did for most, the first time I heard its brutal yet catchy approach to the ever-typical sound of pop-punk.  By the way, I was sitting in a swivel computer-chair that also rocks back and forth, which would’ve made the whole flailing mess horribly embarrassing to watch (just saying).  Just as they did with Under Soil and Dirt, I’m finding that everyone seems to have a different set of favorite songs from The Story So Far’s 2013 sophomore album, What You Don’t See, which tells me that The Story So Far made a well-rounded album packed full of at least decent, if not spectacular, songs.

Right off the bat with the first track, “Things I Can’t Change,” the four Cali-boys set the general song structure and rhythm-centered standard for the rest of the album.  Take notice to that cleverly placed bass drum from the hard-hitting Ryan Torf.  Songs like “Stifled,” “All Wrong,” and “Face Value” show a lyrical theme of longing for friends and loved ones, which isn’t exactly rewriting the book on writing lyrics, but singer Parker Cannon still manages to do so thoughtfully and (as in true The Story So Far fashion) with a hint of angry accusations and finger pointing.

What You Don’t See’s real adrenaline-fed climb begins at track five with the song, and first single having been released earlier this month and constantly screamed back from fans at shows, “Right Here” is only the beginning of what I found to be the album’s three peak songs.  “Empty Space” is arguably the title-track, the album’s highest regarded song, and is just packed with anthemic lines including “I know it seems like I’m always upset!” which makes me (being over presumptuous about these types of things and all) think this track could prove to be a kind of “Quicksand Part II.”  Finishing out the album’s top three gems, “The Glass” provides What You Don’t See’s best outro, by far.

“Bad Luck” and “Face Value” prove the notion that The Story So Far didn’t just create a second Under Soil and Dirt but managed to demonstrate instrumental growth in their sound – exploring more hooks, adding interesting new rhythms as well as unfamiliar chords, and all leading to a slightly more mature and complex sound (now, granted this is still pop-punk – obviously nobody’s breaking down any barriers like their John Cage or something).  It might just be my overly-presumptuous excitement again, but is it just me or does Kelen Capener’s little bass ditty at around the two-minute mark in the track “Face Value” sound like something Mark Hoppus has done before in fifty other songs?  The album’s closer, “Framework,” displays a fine example of just how The Story So Far skillfully manages to mold hardcore into pop-punk without having to utilize those dreaded Four Year Strong/A Day To Remember/Same As Sunday-break-down-beats that even their self-proclaim predecessors, Set Your Goals, managed to fall victim to in some of their own songs every now and again.

The largest of the very few criticisms I have of What You Don’t See would have to be my favorite tracks of the albums’ tendencies to also be the shortest in length, but I guess that’s what you get for liking a punk band.  If nothing else the album is well done solely on the grounds that no one else in pop-punk is successfully making this type of sound, not the same way The Story So Far has been.  Well maybe Such Gold (shameless plug), but still, not with the same simplicity that The Story So Far manages to accomplish.  Just as they did with their acclaimed debut album Under Soil and Dirt, The Story So Far’s sophomore spectacle, What You Don’t See, continues to lay the path for the future of a more hardcore, yet still predictable, pop-punk.

~ D.B.

tumblr_mbk3huaLiF1qa13nvo1_500Today, AFI’s seminal sixth studio album, Sing The Sorrow, turns 10 years old! I invite you to join me in revisiting this classic, and wishing it a very happy birthday.

Before I really got onboard with the AFI bandwagon, they were a band that confused me. They confused me because they sounded totally different depending which album I’d hear. Their newer stuff—Decemberunderground onwards—sounded very polished, slick, almost new-age Green Day-like. Then I would hear some older stuff, say, from 1999’s Black Sails in the Sunset, that retained the hardcore punk sound the band championed on all of their early albums.

2003’s Sing The Sorrow is the album that bridges those two extremes. It’s widely considered AFI’s first big shift in sound, incorporating slower tempos, industrial parts, and a generally alternative-rock-based approach. AFI is one of the few bands I can think of that successfully pulled off a drastic shift without alienating the majority of their fan base; if you ask me, the fact that Sing The Sorrow was so different, yet so accepted, speaks to how good of a record it really is.

The meat of the album is, in my opinion, the middle: roughly tracks 4 through 8. “Silver and Cold,” “Dancing Through Sunday,” “Girl’s Not Grey,” “Death of Seasons,” and “The Great Disappointment” are all incredibly solid tracks, all in succession. Each one is unique, creative, musically solid, energetic, and showcases Davey Havok’s melodic vocal track superbly. The melodies and harmonies that Sing The Sorrow demonstrates throughout—but especially on these middle tunes—are easily the best of the band’s career.

Let’s not carelessly leave out other great songs, though—track 2, “The Leaving Song, Pt. II,” was a lead single and is another excellent cut. “Bleed Black” and “This Celluloid Dream” are two further highlights. I suppose it’s safe to say that every single track on Sing The Sorrow is worthy of high acclaim. There’s not a bad song on this record, and I imagine that’s why it’s faired so well both commercially and with dedicated fans.

Progressive, unique, and driving compared to AFI’s earlier work, retaining integrity and musicality despite being released on a huge label (the now-defunct DreamWorks, which was essentially absorbed into Geffen Records), Sing The Sorrow is the perfect mix of old-school and new-school AFI. This “meeting in the middle” approach serves the band well, demonstrating their true talent and songwriting capability. It’s rather strange to think it came out a decade ago; my favorite AFI record is now ten years old. Happy birthday, Sing The Sorrow!


P.S.  Also of note, although completely unrelated to this anniversary—today is 311 day! March 11th, 3/11. So everyone should listen to at least one 311 song today at some point.

“Why would anyone ever want to be screamed at?”

That, dear readers, is my mother’s thoughtful assessment of screamo, hardcore, metal, and the like. Whatever you call it, Momma Bear doesn’t understand hard music with screaming. She thinks the vocalists are screaming at us, the listeners. I try to explain that they’re not screaming at us, they’re screaming at the world, at their problems, at injustice, at stupidity, at females, at whatever. And the point is that sometimes our own aggressions can mirror theirs, and it can be cathartic or something like that. Or we just like the way it sounds.

In any case, she hates any music with screaming. I played some Norma Jean songs in the car for her once. She insisted that it wasn’t really music, and that she could in fact “do that,” meaning scream the way vocalist Cory Brandan does, so therefore it was nothing special. I chuckled and tried to explain that in the grand scheme of things, Norma Jean is practically soft compared to some bands. Then I played a Converge song. She just rolled her eyes.

The majority of modern alternative rock type of stuff is out as well. A Perfect Circle garnered this response: “Who taught this guy how to sing?” Never mind that Maynard is one of the most respected singers in modern rock, and probably ever. An epic Tool composition elicited an even blunter response: “I hate this type of music.” So prog-rock stuff is clearly out—The Mars Volta, Coheed & Cambria, Porcupine Tree—all total fails. When I played a softer song by the latter, she actually kind of enjoyed it, until the vocals came in. So I guess British accents are a no-go as well.

Rock, alternative, punk, prog, metal, screamo—all terrible, in my mom’s opinion. So what does the woman like? You may be surprised to hear that she does actually enjoy a decent amount of stuff released within the past couple of years—but I’ve figured out that it either has to be basically pop music, or stuff that sort of sounds like it came from her generation.


Case in point: The Gaslight Anthem. When I was first spinning their breakthrough disc, The ’59 Sound, in my car, my mom’s ears perked up. “Who are these guys?” she inquired innocently. She likes them, because the whole point of that album was that it was engineered and mixed to sound like it could have been made in, well, 1959. She likes some Band of Horses tracks, too, probably because they have that Neil Young/Creedence type of vibe going on sometimes.

Then you get to the huge bands like the Chili Peppers, Coldplay, and Dave Matthews Band. Let’s get real—all moms enjoy jigging around to “Viva la Vida.”  For some reason she also enjoys “Reckoner” by Radiohead. This would lead me to believe that the really popular arena-playing bands are usually what she likes. But dear mother likes to throw a curveball here as well, because it doesn’t always hold true. She thinks Counting Crows sounds terrible, and reggae-influenced stuff like 311 is “druggie music” (although she may not be too far off with that one).

Further curveballs appear: she absolutely loves “Missed the Boat” by Modest Mouse, but if you play any of the old MM stuff she’ll laugh at it. Same with Against Me!. Their last album, White Crosses, prompted her to praise Laura Jane Grace’s (formerly Tom Gabel) voice quite highly, but when I played an older punk song of theirs she refused to believe it was even the same singer.

90s music is a mixed bag as well. Mom enjoys some of it—The Wallflowers, Hootie and the Blowfish, Gin Blossoms—but bands like Pearl Jam or Bush are generally met with sneers. There’s no point in even trying out Nirvana or the Pumpkins.

The point is, I just can’t figure out what my mom likes, exactly. She just likes what she likes and dislikes what she doesn’t. Some pop stuff, some “indier” stuff, some rockish stuff. But there’s never any clear-cut boundaries. After she made me link Hoobastank’s “The Reason” to her desktop for quick listening, I gave up trying to suggest good bands. More recently, though, she asked who the band was after I’d played an Alkaline Trio song. GAAHHHH! It’s mind boggling.

~ J.M.