Posts Tagged ‘Brendan Kelly’

neon fictionLately, it almost seems like a trend for members of punk bands to start acoustic side-projects during lulls of touring and writing with their original bands.  You might blame it on “the increasingly grim state of the music industry,” and you might be right too, but that’s not to say that every Tom, Dick, and Harry can push out a well written acoustic album in their droll downtime from making crowds of fans all sweaty and light-headed at stanky punk shows.  Fortunately, Sundowner’s main man (and The Lawrence Arm’s guitarist/vocalist) Chris McCaughan seemed to have taken his good ol’ time to write Neon Fiction in between Lawrence Arms albumsprobably even to many impatient fans’ lamentbut let’s be honest, it was well worth the wait.

Neon Fiction is a bit of a step in a new direction from previous Sundowner records, most noticeably from an instrumental perspective.  To call this album an “acoustic album” might be a bit of a stretch.  Plenty of tracks feature fellow Larry Arms bandmate Neil Hennessy on drums and bass guitar, and many of the tracks even utilize the pretty standard punk trio instrumental structure which would be considered anything but acoustic: electric lead guitar over a rhythm guitar, rolling electric bass, and driving punk rhythms on drum set.  Really, just about the only ingredient Neon Fiction‘s nostalgic opener “Cemetery West” (along with a few other similarly structured tracks like “Concrete Shoes” and “Paper Rose City”) is missing to be considered a full-fledged, less intense, Lawrence Arms song is the third and final delightfully crusty Larry Arm, Brendan Kelly.

What're you doing Chris?  No shoes on the bed!

“Chis! No shoes on the bed.” No Mom, it’s punk.

Setting the lyrical tone for the rest of Neon Fiction, “Beautiful Ruins” speaks of the brisk and bustling city of Chicago like she’s a beautifully tragic lady who McCaughan leftwhich isn’t that surprising considering McCaughan had recently left his hometown of Chicago for his girlfriend’s homeland of Portland, Oregon (which I’m sure Fred and Carrie would agree is quite a different place).  Further on in the track list, “We Drift Eternal” can get quite heavy sonically, and, at times, the song even reminds me of another Larry Arms side-project known as Brendan Kelly and the Wandering Birds, especially during the palm-muted verses.  One of the few acoustic songs on Neon Fiction, “Grey on Grey”, is a growing depiction of simple love, and one of my favorites from the album.  Towards the end of the track, drums start to crash and McCaughan settles into the outro pleading “hope you’ll love me the same way, when the colors are grey on grey.”  “Life in the Embers” is sure to make you bob your head and set your life straight while “Origins” (Neon Fiction‘s last truly acoustic track) consists of a pretty non-traditional song structure, especially for how traditionally Sundowner the lyrics are; honest, introspective depictions of hometown living.  “Paper Rose City” is yet another great example of how Sundowner has mastered the blending of acoustic and electric instrumentation to make for bright, full, and light songs.  Another particular favorite of mine from this album, “Poet of Trash” is a devilishly booming son of heart-felt self-deprecation with a tinge of hope.  “Wildfires” is a bouncy uplifting track which, rather than sung next to an uncontrollable “wildfire”, is probably best played next to some comfy, recognizable campfire which burns not in some wild forest, but behind the flannel covered chests of the campers (sorry for the cheese overload all over your eyes, but I couldn’t help my sorry self)a perfect closer for such an eclectic and minimalistic approach to a full-band version of Sundowner.

~ D.B.

My Shame Is DrewI’m not trying to make any bold statements here, but take the time to listen through My Shame Is True and you’ll undoubtedly notice a more true Alkaline Trio-punk approach suggestive of a connection to their earlier “more punk” albums.  Maybe this came from the influence of the album’s producer and drummer of the punk legends, The Descendents’ Bill Stevenson.  Maybe it had something to do with having two of their longtime Chicago-punk-figureheads and friends, Brendan Kelly (The Lawrence Arms) and Tim McIlrath (Rise Against), join in on the record.  Whatever it was I’m thankful for it, the majority of Alkaline Trio fans are thankful for it, and I’m sure that it’s feeling pretty darned good for the ‘Ol Trio to get back to their roots.  If there’s one thing that really sets My Shame Is True apart from the rest of Alkaline Trio’s catalog, it’s the unabashedly vulnerable and honest nature of Skiba’s lyrics.  Skiba even said the album is a kind of love letter/apology to his ex-girlfriend, who you’ll find right up there on the cover of the album.

Unlike most albums, Alkaline Trio didn’t choose to start off with a classically “album defining track” like most great albums do so often nowadays, but with that said I can’t think of a better track to listen to first when I put on My Shame Is True.  “She Lied To The FBI” is really just a Ramones-esque take on the typical Alkaline Trio song, but it carries with it everything I’ve come to love about the Trio i.e. catchy hooks, allegorical lyrics, a solid rhythm section, unmatched harmonies, and an obvious chemistry between both dynamic-duo of Matt Skiba and Dan Andriano.  Speaking of album defining tracks – queue “I Wanna Be A Warhol.”  This catchy song is just covered with strong synths, a catchy harmony where Skiba sings in lower octave underneath his other, higher and more aggressive harmony, and even features some faint, gruff guest vocals from fellow-Chicagoan Brendan Kelly (of The Lawrence Arms) in the verses.

Now, drummer Derek Grant doesn’t usually get much attention, but he’s arguably one of the most underrated drummers of the punk genre.  That being said, although his drumming throughout the entire album is great, “I’m Only Here To Disappoint” is an especially extraordinary example of Grant’s tight, swift, and complex-when-applicable abilities.  A couple other songs where Grant really shines include the dynamic yet quick “Kiss You To Death” and the punk-throwback “The Temptation of St. Anthony.”  I simply cannot express the excitement I had upon the first listen of “The Temptation of St. Anthony” and realizing just how much it reminded me of their earlier, typically more punk material.  I can’t call this song my only favorite, but it’s definitely one of my favorite tracks on the album.  “I, Pessimist” is one of very few aggressive and fast songs in Andriano’s catalog within the band.  His smooth tone accompanies Tim McIlrath’s (of Rise Against) harsh voice in a blend of Chicago-punk-glory like never before imagined.

Much like on Crimson, Andriano contributes only less than a handful of songs, but it’s safe to say that with his contributions to My Shame Is True that album sounds all around more interesting and complex.  “Only Love,” one of the four songs sung by bassist Dan Andriano, seems reminiscent of a more folky approach to punk similar to his side-project, and (don’t shoot me here) is in a lot of ways a bit of a country song.  The song includes a rolling piano underneath a wailing Andriano that, if it was just about any other set of musicians playing this song, would stick out as being too Coldplay-ish (and maybe it does), but Alkaline Trio has done this thing now where after nine albums of scary chords, dark lyrics, upside down crosses, and pentagrams on drumheads their pianos sound like they were recorded in a haunted house rather than in a white room while wearing matching pseudo-military costumes (hopefully you got that Coldplay reference so I don’t look like as much of an idiot).  His last contribution on the album, “Young Lover,” is another case where Andriano was able to juxtapose Skiba’s  longing and broken-hearted mood with a solid and thoughtful take on the classic “let’s live like we could die” type of love song.

Whatcha got there, Matt?  Is that a V8?

Whatcha got there, Matt? Is that a V8?

Movin’ right along (heh see what I did there [insert Muppets joke here]), the next three songs “The Torture Doctor,” “Midnight Blue,” and “One Last Dance” are the apology letters and shame Skiba’s been talking about.  Whatever he’s apologizing for, he certainly doesn’t need to apologize to his fans – these are three great examples of classic Alkaline Trio song structures and a good example of what Skiba brings to the Trio in general.  Save the last track on track on My Shame Is True, if there’s one song fans will unquestionably scream back at the top of their lungs it’s “The Torture Doctor.”  The song is just huge all around.  I don’t know where the “south-side” is, but I know I want to be there.  “Midnight Blue” and “One Last Dance” are good examples of something I noticed in some of Skiba’s songs a while back (i.e. “Hell Yes” and “Dead End Road”) where he’ll sing in a lower, more descending octave making himself sound more down and sub sequentially  making the songs sound a bit more melancholy throughout than they would’ve sounded otherwise.  If you didn’t quite catch the whole vulnerably honest lyrics everybody’s been talking about by now, the album’s last track “Till Death Do Us Part” is most definitely going to smack you right in your blissfully unaware face.  The song draws a lot of comparisons to the equally depressing and slow in nature fan-favorite “Radio,” only this time around the “Till Death Do Us Part” uses less allegorically dark lyrics and just comes right out with it leaving no room for interpretation.

For most pop-punk bands that have been around since the late 90’s, their song-craft or spark if you will, has unfortunately long since flickered out or at least taken to a drastic change in order to stay fresh (man, I sound hip using words like “spark” and “fresh”).  Many have even said (not including myself) that Alkaline Trio had succumb to a sparkless-era with 2010’s critical release This Addiction, but if there’s one thing their latest release My Shame Is True has easily proven it’s that this album couldn’t be less of a continuation from This Addiction.  It seems like Alkaline Trio, with its perfected and original dark-pop-punk formula, have no plans of letting up anytime soon, and My Shame Is True is a perfect example of that established and enduring sound.

P.S. Look for an upcoming review of Alkaline Trio’s Broken Wing EP, released on the same day as My Shame Is True, in the very near future from OBR’s Jimmy Moul.

~ D.B.