Posts Tagged ‘Angels and Airwaves’

Before I start this review I want to bring something to your attention dear OBR readers: if Strange Vacation sounds like a few other bands to you, don’t be so quick to turn down the volume.  The fact is that Strange Vacation is absolutely influenced by certain bands (i.e. The Dangerous Summer, The Graduate, Angels & Airwaves) and it just so happens to be pretty blatantly obvious, but that doesn’t make them any less enjoyable or interesting to listen to on a budding summer’s morning.  In fact, I find myself listening to Strange Vacation because of their unique take on this kind of unspoken sub-community in pop-punk where Tom DeLonge is their god, delayed guitars and spacey synths is their language, and the typical “pop-punk breakdown” is fortunately nowhere to be found.

ThunderstormsYou see, Strange Vacation made quite the splash amongst these excited fans with their debut album Chasm.  Since then they’ve played only one public show as Strange Vacation (as far as anyone knows), successfully crowd-funded a vinyl pressing of the debut record, and had been secretly working on a follow-up album to Chasm almost immediately after it was released.  Now, it’s here – Thunderstorms.  If that wasn’t enough hype for you, check your pulse because you’re probably dead.

A sophomore release is a difficult one for any band who gained any kind of success from their first album.  No matter what, listeners will want every record after their first colossal debut to be even more exceptional.  Thunderstorms certainly rolled in with a fan-pleasing boom, but I have to say; I have a few things to gripe about.

Strange Vacation is now solely comprised of Mark Warren (bass, keys) and John-Paul Bakaric (vocals, guitar) with the occasional vocal accompaniment from Jem McTaggart.  Since Chasm, Strange Vacation’s line-up dropped two players with the leaving of Josh Waldorf on guitar and vocals and Kyle Mueller on drums.  Much to my surprise, Bakaric (vocal/guitarist) filled in on drums for all of the tracks on Thunderstorms.  I can’t say that Bakaric’s drum tracks are as difficult and technical as Mueller’s contributions on Chasm, but it’s clear that Bakaric has an ear (and apparently the ability) for placing fitting and well-rounded drumming behind his own songs.

Strange Vacation was able to pull off another record showcasing their unique adaptation of The Dangerous Summer-esque bands, but it seems like an overall less-mature version of their first beloved release.  Some of my favorite tracks such as “Come Watch The Sunset” showcase a slew of harmonies and vocals from Bakaric and female-accompanist Jem McTaggart, but I can’t help but think that the track begs for a change of pace with vocals from their previous-member Waldorf.  Without the mind-blowing chops from past-drummer Kyle Mueller and refreshing vocals from past-member Waldorf, I find myself noticing what I don’t like about these tracks, for example, like how the vocals now sound forced at times (much like many other places on the album).  The same stressed yell worked well at the end of Chasm’s “Round and Round”, but the same can’t be said for their excessive and even somewhat ridiculous use on Thunderstorms.

The real gems on Thunderstorms are towards the end of the album.  Songs like the mid-tempo builder “Oasis” and the relatively inquisitive “Purpose” are examples of Strange Vacation’s ability to make meaningful and instrumentally fitting songs.  The album’s title-track is an accurate representation of the better elements of Thunderstorms, and rightfully so, with its huge chorus and conservatively used minor chords

My biggest complaint with Strange Vacation’s otherwise solid album is the lyrics, and the best example of this let-down is the song “On and On”.  The catchy track is possibly one of their best instrumentally and, without a doubt, has the most potential (with it having the heaviest guitars and whatnot), but along come Bakaric’s seemingly phony lyrics in the verse, “A little late night drunk sex, before I know it we’re in a fight, by the morning all that’s left is a regret.”  Compared to the thoughtful, contemplative lyrics from their last album, “Recreate your stability, new inventions to cope, and create the sounds you love, with sharp clarity in your dreams,” there’s simply no comparison – it’s unfortunate, but one has to assume that Strange Vacation have lyrically taken a giant leap in the wrong direction.  There’s even a couple songs on Thunderstorms which remind me of cheesy pick up lines like in “Heaven Must Be A Mess Without You” when Bakaric and McTaggart harmonize to say, “My angel, Heaven must be a mess without you.”

“Road Trip” is a more mature take on youth and quite possibly my favorite song on the album, especially compared to “On and On.”  It even features an Angels & Airwaves type of delayed guitar riff which just so happens to sound pretty similar to AVA’s “Do It For Me Now,” but the riff isn’t similar enough where it ruins the song by any means.

Don’t get me wrong, a few tracks on Thunderstorms are some of my favorites from their catalog yet.  Songs like “Sick Cycle” featuring none other than The Dangerous Summer’s very own AJ Perdomo during the bridge and outro serve as a reminder to anyone doubting the record (myself included).

So I guess my real grievance with Thunderstorms is that it showcases the skilled and listenable best of Strange Vacation, but doesn’t leave out the disappointing worst of Strange Vacation, which leads me to conclude that the record, much like this review, might be one big contradiction.  With that being said, though, don’t let this discourage you from giving Thunderstorms a chance.  Strange Vacation have still done it again and made for an interesting and unique twist on this growing sub-genre in pop-punk, but maybe just start listening to Thunderstorms somewhere in the middle of the album instead of from the beginning like some lunatic OBR writer does from now on.

~D.B.

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Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve all but given up on Angels and Airwaves. In my opinion, it was cool in 2006 when the first album came out—and then they put out the same album three times after that. I hear you out there, die-hard AVA lovers (you know who you are), protesting my opinions: “All the albums are really different, you’re just not listening thoroughly,” “Every album is ingenious in its own right,” etc. etc. etc. Sorry, I just think the Love albums sound like uninventive variations on previous material and consistently tried too hard to be epic and grandiose and relevant and life-changing.

You may wonder, then, why I would even bother listening to the band’s latest release, especially one with a title this ridiculous. Nevertheless, I gave the Stomping the Phantom Brake Pedal EP a try. Call it nostalgia, or boredom, or just the fact that it popped up on the front page of the iTunes store. I don’t know why I did it exactly, but I previewed the album and eventually downloaded it.

Verdict? Meh. Mostly—key word here, mostly—the album is a disappointment. On second thought, it’s really not a disappointment, because I didn’t expect anything in the first place. That’s generally my life motto: don’t expect much, and you won’t get disappointed. It makes for a really rewarding and fulfilling life. Not. Back to the point: Stomping the Phantom Brake Pedal consists of three songs that are really “evolved” compositions from the musical score of the band’s Love movie (this band is really into love, aren’t they?). Before we get to those tracks, let us casually cast aside the latter half of the EP, which is made up of six remixes of songs from the second Love album. For one, they just sound… not that cool. Secondly, why would I enjoy remixes of songs I already don’t care for? They’re pretty forgettable, all things considered. That’s just me, though—if you are indeed a fan of those original songs, (greetings again AVA die-hards!) I suppose you’d probably enjoy the remixes.

Back to the first three tracks. Excuse me, reels. We’ve got to be hipsterly correct here. Wait… I should patent that term, that’s a good one. But again, back to the point—the first three songs. Tracks 2 and 3 (reels 5 and 6, confusingly) are instrumental tracks, showcasing a more techno/electronica/industrial sound than AVA usually offers. Interesting, but not something that’s going to change my opinion of the band entirely.

Then we arrive at the first track—reel 1, subtitled “Diary.” It’s a shame “Diary” leads off this EP, because it is the definite high point and makes the rest of the album a letdown if listening chronologically. The song starts out in typical AVA fashion; long intro, droning synths, a distorted backing beat. Then, at the 3:30 mark, it breaks into a nice groovy drum pattern courtesy of new drummer Ilan Rubin, formerly of Nine Inch Nails (so that’s where that industrial influence came from!), with simple piano notes above it. Eventually, frontman Tom Delonge’s voice appears over this pattern. Usually this is the point where most AVA songs succumb to a lack of variety and sound a bit ridiculous. Not the case this time. “Diary” places Tom’s vocals in the back of the mix, muddying and stretching them over the groove, resulting in a pleasing post-rock feel that suits the band, in my opinion, quite well.

Let’s be clear: I’m not praising “Diary” because I think it is a particularly groundbreaking or mind-blowing song. What “Diary” provides is a change of direction—a change of direction, finally, for a band that needs a breath of fresh air in their material. I’m praising “Diary” for being something different than what I’ve heard this band creating for the past six years and three full-length albums. The post-rock direction of this song—especially putting that whiny Delonge vocal back further in the mix—is where I would like to see Angels and Airwaves go in the future.

Will this happen? Not likely, since “Diary” is simply a reel, an evolved piece of musical score from that dratted movie. There’s no reason to suspect they’ll make more songs in this vein. I’m holding out hope, though, that Mr. Rubin’s new influence will make a difference. In the meantime I’m going to go listen to Tom in Enema of the State like it’s 1999.

~ J.M.

I’m sure many of you have encountered what I call a “punk purist” at one point or another. Punk purists are those people who get their panties all in a wad if a band produces something more musical than the same three power chords and a punk drum beat. For the record, I am NOT one of those people—I quite enjoy, most of the time, when a band expands their palette a bit and puts some experimentation in their music. Blink-182 is a good example. 2003’s self-titled album (“untitled” if you’re a twat about it) is one of my favorite records of all time and I would still contend that I haven’t heard anything quite like it since.

Then Blink broke up, and it all went down the toilet. Sure, they got back together, but I didn’t have high hopes after their reunion, and 2011’s Neighborhoods didn’t quite cut it for me, especially compared to the self-titled album. When I heard they were putting out a 5-song EP, Dogs Eating Dogs, I had hoped it might herald a return to the more experimentalist post-punk of Blink-182, and restore my hope in their innovative prowess.

Wishful thinking, I guess.

Maybe I should be a little more punk purist or something, because the new Blink material isn’t nearly as cool as self-titled-era Blink, and it’s becoming too cheesy to even compare to Dude Ranch/Cheshire Cat-era Blink (and that’s saying something—go listen to the chorus of “Strings” without laughing).

The problem is that far too much of the members’ hiatus-era projects found their way into the reformed Blink 182’s musical arsenal. The title track of the EP, while perhaps being my favorite of the five songs, sounds a little too much like a Plus 44 track. The guitar riff in the chorus of “Disaster” is ripped right out of at least four Angels & Airwaves songs. Leadoff track “When I Was Young” is okay, but it sounds more like an outtake of the Neighborhoods recording sessions than anything. “Boxing Day” isn’t terrible, but I wish the lads would have either gone full-Christmas-song on us or left out the holidays entirely. Instead, what you get is a quasi-Christmas acoustic song with a geeky electronic drum part that tarnishes the tune. Perhaps turning up that cheery sleigh bell part in the background and leaving out the electronics would have been more effective.

My thoughts exactly.

My thoughts exactly.

Then we get to the last song, “Pretty Little Girl.” Way to cap this off with a winner, Blink. You’ve got to be kidding me with this rap part in the bridge. Yelawolf? I love Travis as much as the next guy, but he really should have kept his rapper friends away from his main band. Yelawolf’s half-minute contribution sounds utterly ridiculous, and this isn’t just me not being much of a rap-lover. It just doesn’t fit in the song at all. In an instant, we go from a decent pop-punky chorus to a mediocre half-witted rap verse. For me, it ends the whole release on a sour note.

Allow me to hazard a guess at one possible reason for Blink’s recent decline (aside from the breakup, which obviously didn’t help). Legendary punk producer Jerry Finn, who produced every one of Blink’s albums since Enema of the State, died unexpectedly in 2008. Now Blink produces their own material. I hate to say it, but I think they needed Jerry around to give that extra 10% of awesomeness. Without him, they don’t seem to know what to do except rip parts off of their other bands and bring in half-ass rappers willy-nilly.

If you’re a die-hard Blink fan (as I am, contrary to the tone of the above paragraphs) you’ll want to pick up Dogs Eating Dogs. The first two songs are decent, and if you’re anal about owning the whole Blink discography (as I am) you’ll need it. Don’t get excited for something beyond the sound of Neighborhoods, though, and don’t expect—by any means—the incredibly refreshing sound of songs like “Stockholm Syndrome,” “Asthenia,” or “Violence,” all from the self-titled record.

Don’t worry, Blink-182. You haven’t lost me as a fan or anything; I still love you. You secured a spot in my all-time favorites a long time ago. But I suggest a re-titling of this EP. Perhaps Dogs Chasing Their Own Tails (in Vain) would be a better fit.

~ J.M.