Posts Tagged ‘pop-punk’

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.


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.

Mae Destination Beautiful cover artThe year 2003 was a pretty genre-defining year in music – or at least in rock sub-genres.  The Postal Service released their debut album (along with bands like Copeland and The Format), Blink-182 released their self-titled album, and tons of the latest bands we listen to in 2013 were graduating from high school.  And as it just so happens on this particular day (February 25th) back in 2003 Mae released their debut album entitled Destination: Beautiful and showed a bunch of track-jacket-and-Dickies wearing emo kids how to actually have “happy” feelings for once.

I might just be amusing myself, but Mae had brought a new element to emo that I don’t really think was there before Destination: Beautiful – joy.  Before 2003 everyone playing the arguably indefinable genre of “emo” was singing about how sad they were about their feelings, relationships, and parents, but Destination: Beautiful accomplished something a bit different.  Even though these songs appealed to fans of the emo genre of the time, singer/guitarist, Dave Elkins, started singing about finding hope and all things generally uplifting.  Instead of putting marks on your wrist, Mae’s debut album would leave smiles on your face.

Mae starts off almost slow with the fan favorite “Embers and Envelopes.”  The song does a really good job of defining Mae’s signature sound for the rest of the album; spacey emo, distorted and palm muted guitars, catchy choruses, and keen drumming abilities provided throughout the album by the ever technical Jacob Marshell.  “This Time Is The Last Time” is a true measure of the album’s ability to be dynamic as it starts with an acoustic guitar melody, moves into a booming chorus, and finishes out with the same acoustic guitar.  The next track, “All Deliberate Speed,” is quite possibly my favorite track on the entire album.  The low bass and background harmonies that show up every now and then are almost eerie for such a generally cheery song.  I really think the drummer in me loves the technical rhythms between the guitars and drums, and the bass drum to hi-hat build until the end makes me levitate in my chair.  “Runaway” has most likely the catchiest chorus on the album.  “Sun” provides a change of pace (but only sort of, if that makes any sense) for the middle of the album with its piano ballad outro serving as a kind of album-interlude.  Also a favorite of mine, “Last Call” features the tight and packy snare that was a part of the trademark early 00’s punk/emo drummers.  The song “Skyline Drive” was written with Elkins’ previous band, Sky’s The Limit, and (if the album even has one) might serve as the album’s ballad.  With its poppy chorus and matching guitar and synth riff during the bridge and outro, I can see “Soundtrack For Our Movie” being poppy enough to air time on radio back in 2003, though it sadly never got the chance.  Easily the hardest track off Destination: Beautiful, “Summertime” provides my favorite outro on the release.  For all of you drumming aficionado OBR readers; notice how the snare sounds different compared to the other tracks, it’s warmer and has a kind of looser attack.  Finally, the album ends with the fittingly huge, uplifting, and appropriately named “Goodbye, Goodnight.”

Destination: Beautiful references driving and the sky in quite possibly every song.  Elkins has even mentioned before that around the time of writing songs for the album he would “gather [his] thoughts and eventually turn those thoughts into lyrics” during his long drives as a commuting student in college.  Having commuted to school for a year, I have to say, Dave Elkins crushed the nail on the head.  Destination: Beautiful is great album to listen to while driving or sailing or flying… or wearing that blue Starting Line t-shirt with a three leaf clover on it that is too small for you like it’s 2003.

~ D.B.

As it turns out, the three albums I’ve picked have no album titles yet, or even as much as a concrete release date. I’d like to think that this only heightens the anticipation, though.  Yeah.  That’s what I’ll keep telling myself.

Bad boys? Who are you guys kidding?

Is that my Dad’s garage?

Alternative:  Jimmy Eat World

Considering this album is most likely to be released first in my list for 2013 and there is still so little actually known about it – I’m wildly surprised.  I always find it fascinating when bands have their new material leaked unintentionally before the release date, whether it be by some computer-network-savvy fan or an inside job by the label.  It seems, though, that Jimmy Eat World is playing it smart by staying relatively quiet throughout the whole writing, recording, mixing, and now mastering process of their eighth studio album.  Fortunately we do know two things: they are without a label, and unlike most unsigned bands the engineer/producer, Alain Johannes (Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures), isn’t just some kid with Pro Tools and a “studio” in his parents’ attic.

Punk:  The Story So Far

Look at all of those pop-punk sheep.

Look at all of those pop-punk sheep.

It’s been about a year and a half (June 21, 2011) since the release of The Story So Far’s debut full-length, Under Soil And Dirt, and like everyone else that listens to anything even remotely close to pop-punk, I’m still listening to every track.  To read that many are saying their upcoming sophomore album could leave a mark in not only the pop-punk community but the alternative genre as well is pretty impressive for a band without a Wikipedia page.  Since Under Soil And Dirt took at least a good six months to really grab any attention outside of their fan base, I can only expect the same for this upcoming release.  Luckily, if there is one album in 2013 that I don’t have to worry about being a flopping mess it’s this one.  Even if The Story So Far only reach the most minimal of expectations, this sophomore debut will still leave a hot and steamy mark on pop-punk.

Post-Rock:  Moving Mountains

Moving Mountains (and their furly beards)

Moving Mountains (and their furly beards)

Drawing direct influence from the huge powers known as Thrice and labelmates The Appleseed Cast, I’m surprised Moving Mountains aren’t a whole lot more popular than they are currently.  They certainly haven’t been hiding in the studio until recently.  Touring almost non-stop for two years with anyone from The Fall of Troy to Straylight Run would get the attention of a whole slew of scenes, but it’s my hopes that their first full-length since May 2011 will get them all the attention they deserve.  Josh Kirby will be replacing guitarist Frank Graniero on Moving Mountains’ third full-length which could prove to be a risky move since Frank recorded guitar on the their last three releases (Foreword, Waves, and New Light).  Luckily, founding members Gregory Dunn (vocals/guitar) and Nicholas Pizzolato (drums) are still on the bill and will, almost without a doubt, be able to blow my mind away for a third time.

~ D.B.